WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama unveiled a group of disaffected high-profile Republicans on Tuesday who he hopes will help him win the support of Republican voters in swing states.
"This is simply not a time for politics as usual," said Jim Leach, a former congressman from Iowa who endorsed Obama on Tuesday.
Leach, one of "Republicans for Obama" effort, said he thought that Obama would return the presidency to a less partisan style that looked to more international cooperation and was "rooted in very old American values."
The group's strategy will focus on winning support for Obama in states that have tended to favor Republican presidential candidates, such as North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa and Colorado, as well as Ohio and Florida. The group will launch a Web site this week and plans campaign appearances on Obama's behalf.
The Republican Party dismissed the group's announcement as a gimmick to keep Obama in the news while he vacations with his family this week in his native state of Hawaii. The Republican National Committee issued a release noting Obama's party-line voting record for his first three years in the Senate and his designation as the "most liberal senator" last year by the National Journal.
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 re-election two years ago, and Rita Hauser, an Iraq-war opponent who's a former adviser to President Bush.
Chafee said that while Republican presidential candidate John McCain seemed independent from Bush on domestic policy as a senator, as a presidential candidate "it's a different John McCain, saying, 'Make the tax cuts permanent' " or advocating offshore oil drilling. Chaffee said of McCain, "His foreign policy has been consistently Bush-Cheney."
Hauser said that among her circle of 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."
One Republican who wasn't part of Tuesday's announcement is Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Hagel, who opposes the Iraq war, traveled to the war zone last month with Obama and is sometimes talked about as a potential running mate for Obama, although Hagel hasn't made an endorsement. Leach said Tuesday that he'd like to see an Obama-Hagel ticket
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. It was founded in late 2006, before Obama announced his candidacy, and is run by a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and previously worked for a Republican senator.
Despite his background as a liberal lawmaker from Chicago, Obama has cultivated throughout his presidential campaign the notion that as president he could build coalitions across partisan lines. He and his supporters call his Republican supporters "Obamacans."
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 released 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.
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