Republican and conservative support for Barack Obama in 2008
United States President Barack Obama, a member of the Democratic Party, was endorsed or supported by some members of the Republican Party and by some political figures holding conservative views in the 2008 election. Although the vast majority of Obama's support came from liberal constituencies, some conservatives identified in him shared priorities or other positive attributes. As in any election, voters can and sometimes do cross party lines to vote for the other party's nominee. Republican and conservative Obama supporters were often referred to as "Obama Republicans", "Obamacans" or "Obamacons".
Republican and conservative supporters of Obama included elected officials, former elected officials, academics, commentators, and retired military officers. According to exit polls on Election Day, 9% of those who identified themselves as Republicans voted for Barack Obama, conflicting with polling data gathered by The Economist in October 2008, reporting 22% of conservatives favored Obama. up slightly from the 6% of self-identified Republicans who voted for John Kerry in 2004.
Etymology of "Obama Republican"
On February 12, 2008, Barack Obama mentioned Obama Republicans in his Potomac primary victory speech: "We are bringing together Democrats and independents, and yes, some Republicans. I know there's—I meet them when I'm shaking hands afterwards. There's one right there. An Obamacan, that's what we call them." In another speech, he said, "We, as Democrats right now, should tap into the discontent of Republicans. I want some Obama Republicans!" In his call for Republican votes, Obama referred to Ronald Reagan, who he says "was able to tap into the discontent of the American people ... to get Democrats to vote Republican—they were called Reagan Democrats."
RepublicansforObama.org was founded in December 2006 by John Martin, a US Navy reservist. The organization grew to include over 2,500 registered members from across the United States, and was featured in USA Today, The New Yorker and other media throughout the 2008 Presidential Campaign.
Commentary and events
Conservative praise for Obama was highlighted in the conservative Insight magazine in July 2007. Insight's story focused on Obama's character as contrasted with the then Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. In January 2008, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic also praised Obama's character and personality. In March 2008, Andrew Bacevich, writing in The American Conservative, said that "principled conservatives" should consider voting for Obama since he promised a quick end to the Iraq War; which Bacevich said had contributed to the growth of federal and presidential power. Bruce Bartlett, writing in the New Republic, cited Obama's opposition to the Iraq War as the main issue which appealed to conservatives. Also mentioned were his opposition to some parts of the PATRIOT Act and his possible support for school vouchers.
In June 2008, Republican Douglas Kmiec was denied Roman Catholic communion for his support of Obama, due to an interpretation of church policy and Obama's pro-choice stance. In June 2008, Washington Post commentator Robert Novak blamed the policies of President George W. Bush for Republican defections to the Obama camp and suggested that Republicans Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel might soon declare their support for Obama. In July 2008, African-American libertarian-conservative columnist Thomas Sowell criticized "Obamacons" and advised them to more seriously consider Obama's liberal positions on many issues before supporting him over Republican candidate John McCain—despite Sowell's previous strident criticism of McCain.
On October 19, 2008, Colin Powell, who served as President George W. Bush's first Secretary of State, endorsed Obama in an appearance on Meet the Press. Calling Obama a "transformational figure," Powell cited John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin (who Powell believed is not "ready to be president"), Republican personal attacks on Obama, and Obama's ability to improve strained relations between the U.S. and its allies as reasons for his choice.
The Republican party reported a total of 700 Republican voters in Iowa who voted for Obama during the January 2008 caucuses, and 500 in Colorado during their February 2008 caucuses. Polls in late February 2008, the height of the Democratic primaries and the point at which the Republicans had virtually decided on John McCain, showed that up to 14% of Republicans supported Obama. Some disenchanted or moderate Republican donors who contributed to the George Bush campaign in 2004 have donated to the Obama campaign.
Following General Powell's endorsement, other prominent Republicans continued to join the ranks who had decided to vote for Senator Obama, including: Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, former spokesman for President George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, and prominent conservatives Ken Adelman and Charles Fried.
This wave of endorsements led The Economist to publish an in-depth examination of "The Rise of the Obamacons" and their influence:
The biggest brigade in the Obamacon army consists of libertarians, furious with Mr Bush's big-government conservatism, worried about his commitment to an open-ended "war on terror", and disgusted by his cavalier way with civil rights. ... For many conservatives, Mr Obama embodies qualities that their party has abandoned: pragmatism, competence and respect for the head rather than the heart. Mr Obama's calm and collected response to the turmoil on Wall Street contrasted sharply with Mr. McCain's grandstanding. ... How much do these Obamacons matter? More than Mr McCain would like to think. The Obamacons are manifestations of a deeper turmoil in the Republican rank-and-file, as the old coalition of small-government activists, social conservatives and business Republicans falls apart. They also influence opinion. ... The more tantalising question is whether the rise of the Obamacons signals a lasting political realignment. ... If the Republican Party continues to think that the problem lies with the rats, rather than the seaworthiness of the ship, then the Obamacons are here to stay.
The rush of Republicans and other conservatives openly endorsing Barack Obama was the subject of satire on the television show The Colbert Report on October 29, 2008, which drew record ratings with a self-serving endorsement by the conservative host character played by comedian Stephen Colbert.
The final election Gallup Poll, from October 27 to November 2, indicated 10% of Republicans supported Obama instead of McCain, compared to 7% of "McCain Democrats." Gallup also indicated his support among self-described conservatives, although stronger than John Kerry's, was weaker than what Al Gore received. In August, Andrew Romano of Newsweek stated that the polls he had read indicate the cross-over voters "cancel each other out." However The Economist cited a poll in late October 2008 that indicated Obama was "winning 22% of self-described conservatives, a higher proportion than any Democratic nominee since 1980."
Republican elected officials who endorsed Obama
- Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson
- Former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. Two years later, he was elected Governor of Rhode Island as an Independent—Obama's avowed neutrality in the race was viewed by some, including the Democratic nominee, as a tacit endorsement of Chafee. He later joined the Democratic Party and ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
- Former Minnesota Senator David Durenberger supported John Kerry in the 2004 election, leaving the Republican Party. He now supports Obama.
- Former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards voted for Obama; announced one day after the election.
- Former Kansas Congressman, Nixon Administration Deputy Secretary of Defense and United States Permanent Representative to NATO Robert F. Ellsworth
- Former Maryland Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (who was an outgoing incumbent at the time) told WBAL-TV that he voted for Obama in a January interview.
- Former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton, father-in-law of then Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA)
- Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach
- Former Maryland Senator Charles Mathias Jr. Mathias was a liberal Republican who was often at odds with the conservative wing of the party as a senator.
- Former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler
- Former Connecticut Governor and Senator Lowell Weicker. Weicker left the Republican Party in 1988 after a campaign in which prominent Republicans endorsed his opponent, Joe Lieberman. He supported Democrat Bill Bradley in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004 for the presidency.
- Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld
- Mayor Lou Thieblemont of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Thieblemont switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat so that he could vote for Obama in the Pennsylvania primary.
- Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker endorsed Obama and delivered a speech on the second day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
Other national Republican figures who endorsed Obama
- Ken Adelman, former diplomat, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board
- Wick Allison, former publisher of National Review,
- Jack Antaramian, Florida real estate developer and Bush fundraiser
- William Donaldson, former Chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission under George W. Bush (2003–05)
- Ken Duberstein, former Reagan chief of staff
- Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of former President Richard Nixon, granddaughter-in law of Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower and president of the Eisenhower Institute. After endorsing Obama, Eisenhower announced on August 21, 2008 that she was leaving the Republican Party.
- Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald R. Ford.
- Charles Fried, former U.S. Solicitor General and former McCain advisor.
- C.C. Goldwater, granddaughter of former Arizona Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (endorsing Barack Obama on behalf of herself, her sibling, and some of her cousins)
- Lilibet Hagel, wife of Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
- Rita E. Hauser, former White House intelligence advisor for President George W. Bush
- Actor and former Bush supporter Dennis Hopper voted for Obama, citing his admiration of the Democratic nominee and particularly his dislike of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
- Larry Hunter, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Innovation and Chief Economist for the Free Enterprise Fund, former Reagan policy advisor
- Rear Admiral John Hutson, USN (ret.), former Judge Advocate General of the Navy and the current dean and president of Franklin Pierce Law Center.
- Legal scholar Douglas Kmiec
- Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush from 2003–2006. Author of controversial book, What Happened.
- Tricia Mosley, former staffer to Senator Strom Thurmond
- Paul O'Neill, United States Secretary of the Treasury from 2001–02 under George W. Bush
- Retired General Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- David Ruder, Chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission under President Ronald Reagan
- Radio host Michael Smerconish Later switched to Independent.
- Tag Tognalli, former Reagan White House Staff, 1981–1989 and Connecticut McCain Delegate to 2000 Republican National Convention.
Support for Obama from conservative writers
- Andrew Bacevich, Professor of International Relations at Boston University.
- Christopher Buckley, author, son of conservative figure William F. Buckley Jr.
- Francis Fukuyama, author, key figure in the rise of neoconservatism and loosely affiliated with conservatism. Fukuyama left the neoconservative movement following the Iraq War and supported John Kerry in the 2004 election.
- Jeffrey Hart, senior editor of National Review magazine.
- Dorothy King, archeologist, author, and conservative blogger.
- Scott McConnell, editor of the American Conservative, a magazine associated with Patrick Buchanan. (McConnell had also endorsed John Kerry in 2004.)
- John Patrick Diggins, distinguished professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Writing in the American Conservative, Diggins wrote "I prefer the professor to the warrior."
- Andrew Sullivan, commentator and author of The Conservative Soul, who had also endorsed John Kerry in 2004.
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- About Republicans for Obama Archived 2008-10-28 at the Wayback Machine "Founded in late 2006 as part of the nationwide effort to encourage Senator Obama to run for the Presidency, our volunteer-run, grassroots group now includes over 2200 registered members from across the nation."
- A New Political Breed: Obamacans Archived 2009-01-25 at the Wayback Machine USA Today, March 19, 2008. "Founded in 2006, Campbell's organization might well be leading the charge among mutinous Republicans in the online world. He says it has 800 members in 19 states and is growing. On Super Tuesday, Campbell says, the site had 22,000 hits. Now, it gets 1,200 to 1,500 hits a day."
- The Conciliator Archived 2008-12-18 at the Wayback Machine The New Yorker, May 7, 2007."In his election to the U.S. Senate, Obama won forty per cent of the Republican vote; now there is a group called Republicans for Obama, founded by John Martin, a law student and Navy reservist shortly to be posted to Afghanistan, which has chapters in six states."
- The Daily Dish Archived 2008-06-11 at the Wayback Machine The Atlantic January 2008. "Obama's legislative record, speeches, and the way he has run his campaign reveal, I think, a very even temperament, a very sound judgment, and an intelligent pragmatism. Prudence is a word that is not inappropriate to him."
- Right Choice? The conservative case for Barack Obama Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, March 24, 2008. "Yet if Obama does become the nation's 44th president, his election will constitute something approaching a definitive judgment of the Iraq War. As such, his ascent to the presidency will implicitly call into question the habits and expectations that propelled the United States into that war in the first place. Matters hitherto consigned to the political margin will become subject to close examination. Here, rather than in Obama's age or race, lies the possibility of his being a truly transformative presidency."
- For an 'Obamacon,' Communion Denied Archived 2018-07-14 at the Wayback Machine Washington Post, June 3, 2008.
- The Obamacons Who Worry McCain Archived 2009-08-02 at Archive-It Washington Post, June 6, 2008.
- Conservatives should rethink their support of Obama Thomas Sowell, Deseret News, July 10, 2008. "Back in the 18th century, Helvetius said, "When I speak I put on a mask. When I act, I am forced to take it off." Too many voters still have not learned that lesson. They need to look at the track record of Obama's actions. Back in the days of "The Lone Ranger" program, someone would ask, "Who is that masked man?" People need to start asking that question about Obama."
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