Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama unveiled a group of high-profile Republicans on Tuesday who he hopes will help him win the support of Republican voters in swing states.
"I'm convinced that the national interest demands a new approach to our interaction with the world," said former Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, one of the "Republicans for Obama." "This is simply not a time for politics as usual."
The group's strategy will focus on winning support for Obama in states that have tended to favor Republicans presidential candidates: North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Florida. The group -- which also includes Jim Whitaker, the Republican mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska -- will launch a website this week and plans campaign appearances on Obama's behalf.
'Old American values'
Leach, a former foreign service officer, predicted that many Republicans and independents would be attracted by Obama's campaign. (Obama and his supporters call his Republican supporters "Obamacans.")
He said his decision to endorse a Democratic candidate for the first time wasn't easy, but "the national interest comes before party concerns."
Leach said he thought that Obama would return the presidency to a less partisan style that was "rooted in very old American values."
However, Leach's decision could cause ripples with the group Common Cause, where he serves on the board and which has a policy against political endorsements. Leach said he wasn't aware of any such concerns.
The Republican Party dismissed the announcement as a gimmick to keep Obama in the news while he vacations in Hawaii. Wendy Riemann, a spokeswoman for Republican rival John McCain, said, "A single endorsement does not hide the fact that Sen. Obama has no record of achievement beyond the confines of his party."
In a conference call organized by Obama's campaign to announce "Republicans for Obama," Leach was joined by Lincoln Chafee, a former Rhode Island senator who dropped his Republican affiliation after he lost reelection two years ago, and Rita Hauser, an Iraq war opponent who's a former adviser to President Bush.
Chafee said that while John McCain seemed independent from Bush as a senator, as a presidential candidate "it's a different John McCain, saying, 'Make the tax cuts permanent'" or advocating offshore oil drilling.
Hauser said that among her Republican friends, "A very large number of us feel deeply that John McCain, good man that he is, will be a continuation of Bush" and "that is something that we are strongly opposed to."
Outreach to various camps
The organizers said they expected to engage hundreds of thousands of Republican and independent voters from various camps: those who oppose the Iraq war, are disillusioned with Bush's record or are wavering on McCain as a candidate for other reasons.
They'll build the group from a pre-existing organization called "Republicans for Obama" that isn't affiliated with the campaign.
Courting moderate Republicans and independents could help Obama counter weaker support from older voters and some conservative, white Democrats. But it's not clear that more information will sway more Republicans. A poll last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of Republicans thought that they'd already been hearing too much about Obama.
The Associated Press and McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.