From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Alex Wall
The Obama campaign hopes to attract hundreds of thousands of Republicans to support the Democratic candidate in November, said three GOPers who hosted a conference call this morning.
The three Republicans -- former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach (who formally endorsed Obama today), former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, and former White House intelligence advisor Rita E. Hauser -- announced the formation of "Republicans for Obama," which will launch a Web site in the coming days that will be a clearinghouse of information for Republicans who want to learn more about the Illinois Democrat. The site will highlight the differences between Obama and McCain on the issues and let them know where they can go to see the candidate and how they can help in his election effort.
"From my perspective, this is simply not a time for politics as usual," said Leach, arguing that the portfolio of issues that will be passed on to the next president would be as daunting as any since World War II and would therefore require "inspiring, new, political leadership" and the kind of change he believes Obama's platform offers.
Leach, Chafee, and Hauser cited the presidential hopeful's approach to foreign policy and to the economy as reasons for supporting him over McCain, saying the Arizona senator would continue Bush Administration policies -- from the war in Iraq to an unwillingness to engage enemies in direct diplomacy -- that have hurt America's standing in the world and its financial stability.
Chafee said "we've seen our credibility shattered" over the last eight years. Added Leach: "The prospect that we'll have more of the same -- that is the source of angst of many Republicans around the country."
Hauser also pointed to the difference between the two candidates' response to the conflict between Russia and Georgia as evidence of the need for a new kind of foreign policy. She said McCain's statements had indicated a bellicose and confrontational approach to dealing with Russia, while Obama had focused more on involving world organizations and working towards reconciliation.
Leach and Hauser both alluded to a McCain campaign theme of "putting country first" to explain why they had split with their party to support Obama, with Leach saying he and thousands of Republicans would be choosing "country over party in this election" -- and Hauser saying that while it was hard to walk away from her party's nominee she had to "put country first."
The call participants declined to name other Republicans who would join the Republicans for Obama effort. When asked specifically whether Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, an Iraq war critic who traveled with Obama on a congressional delegation to the region last month, would be among the members, Leach said it was important for Hagel himself to make any such announcement, should it come. And he added, "I just hope he's considered for veep. I think he'd be a wonderful balance to the ticket."
*** UPDATE *** RNC spokesman Alex Conant emails this response: "Barack Obama's claims to bipartisan appeal are as thin as his record. Republicans will vote for a Commander-in-Chief ready to lead -- not a partisan politician who is only ready to raise taxes and increase spending."