Washington – Joel Haugen, a Republican fighting a tough congressional race against the Democrats in Oregon, has fallen out with his party. The reason: his surprise endorsement of Barack Obama for the presidency.
â€œI believe in putting nation before party and my first priority is following my conscience with regard to what is best for America,â€ Haugen said in a statement issued by his office today. â€œI have a huge amount of respect for John McCain, but I believe that he has more of a cold war mentality.â€
Haugen is just one of many Republican politicians, dubbed â€œObamicansâ€, who have defected to Obama. The latest high-profile desertions include Scott McClellan, George Bushâ€™s former press secretary, who endorses Obama in a taped CNN programme to be broadcast this weekend, and William Weld, the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997.
Weld, in a statement released today ahead of a press conference in New Hampshire, described Obama as â€œa once-in-a-lifetime candidate.â€
Last weekend, Bushâ€™s former secretary of state, Colin Powell, Obamaâ€™s biggest Republican catch so far, publicly backed the Democratic candidate.
It is unusual to see so many prominent Republican politicians and columnists shift, even allowing for the fact that party affiliations are more fluid in the US than Europe. The â€˜Obamicansâ€™ have their own website, listing those who have endorsed Obama and exchanging views. Campaign paraphernalia is also available from Barack Obamaâ€™s team that includes a â€œRepublicans for Obamaâ€ button badge.
According to Haugenâ€™s campaign manager, Sarah Tiedeman, he made no secret of his views while fighting for the party nomination, telling the press about his unhappiness with Bushâ€™s eight years in office and that he was likely to endorse Obama over McCain. He won 70% of the nomination vote.
The Republican party became increasingly â€œunfriendlyâ€, Tiedemann said, and has since withdrawn all financial support.
Haugen, as a compromise, is now standing under an independent banner, though he remains a registered Republican. Tiedemann said the reaction among Republicans over his endorsement was mixed. She acknowledged it was â€œunusualâ€ to make such an endorsement but Haugen â€œfeels the Republican party has got so far from its roots.â€
Other defectors include Arne Carlson, the Republican governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999, who wrote in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune yesterday: â€œThe choice of governor Sarah Palin as a running mate, and the resultant shallow campaign based on fear and suspicion, looks frighteningly similar to the politics of Karl Rove [Bushâ€™s campaign strategist].â€
He described Obama as having â€œthe potential to become a truly great presidentâ€.
Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary for George W. Bush, has endorsed Barack Obama for president. (Photo: Reuters)
McClellan, who published a book earlier this year critical of the Bush administration, accusing it of lying, told CNN he would vote for Obama because he offered the best chance of changing the way Washington works.
The founders of Republicans for Obama include a former Iowa congressman, Jim Leach; a former Rhode Island senator, Lincoln Chafee, and a former Bush fund-raiser, Rita Hauser.
Another defector this week is Ken Adelman, a foreign policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, who told the New Yorker he would endorse Obama because of McCainâ€™s temperament, describing as weird his behavior in response when the economic meltdown began.