WASHINGTON (AFP) — Barack Obama's campaign announced Tuesday the launch of "Republicans for Obama," venturing deep onto rival White House contender John McCain's turf to woo disenchanted conservatives.
The Democrat's campaign said the group was being spearheaded by former lawmaker Jim Leach of Iowa, former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chaffee, and Rita Hauser, who was a prominent fundraiser for President George W. Bush.
The renegade Republicans are all "crossing the divide of old politics to support Barack Obama for president," the Democrat's campaign said in a statement.
But McCain has in turn been courting conservative Democrats, and told voters in Pennsylvania Tuesday that Obama's defeated primary rival Hillary Clinton deserved praise for her dogged campaign.
Both Leach and Chaffee were liberal Republicans in Congress and the Rhode Island senator bolted his party to become an independent after he lost his seat in the 2006 elections.
"I have no doubt that his is the leadership we need and that the world is crying out for," Leach told reporters in reference to Obama.
Hauser is a New York philanthropist who was a financial backer for Bush in 2000 and served as a White House intelligence adviser, but then endorsed Democrat John Kerry in 2004 owing to her opposition to the Iraq war.
"It's difficult to walk away from your party's nominee but you have to put your country first," she said, adding that Obama appeals to "millions of Republicans and former Republicans."
The officials declined to say if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a strident critic of the Iraq war who is sometimes mentioned as a bridge-building vice presidential pick for Obama, might be joining the new group.
But McCain for his part counts as one of his highest-profile supporters Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000.
Lieberman, a national security hawk who bitterly opposes Obama's plans to pull out of Iraq, now sits in the Senate as an "Independent Democrat."
At a "town hall" meeting in York, Pennsylvania, McCain was introduced by both Lieberman and the state's former governor Tom Ridge.
Ridge, who was also formerly chief of homeland security, said: "There are a lot of Democrats and independent voters who are going to vote for John McCain, we know that for a fact. America is desperate for leadership.
"When you pick up the newspapers and look at the maps, there are red (Republican) states and blue (Democratic) states. But we need a president who is red, white and blue," he said.
McCain himself addressed a young man who had backed Clinton in the Democratic primaries and was now agonizing over whether to vote for the Republican or Obama.
"She ran a very good campaign. She inspired young women and people all over America and I want to give her credit for running such a fine campaign," McCain said, continuing a long-running effort to win over disaffected Clinton voters.
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