When Republicans Endorse Obama

Susan Eisenhower is more than just another disappointed Republican. She is also Ike's granddaughter and a dedicated member of the party who has urged her fellow Republicans in the past to stick with the GOP. But now Eisenhower, who runs an international consulting firm, is endorsing Barack Obama. She has no plans to officially leave the Republican party. But in Eisenhower's view, Obama is the only candidate who can build a national consensus on the issues most important to her--energy, global warming, an aging population and America's standing in the world.

"Barack Obama will really be in a singular position to attract moderate Republicans," she told newsweek. "I wanted to do what many people did for my grandfather in 1952. He was hugely aided in his quest for the presidency by Democrats for Eisenhower. There's a long and fine tradition of crossover voters."

Eisenhower is one of a small but symbolically powerful group of what Obama recently called "Obamacans"--disaffected Republicans who have drifted away from their party just as Eisenhower Democrats did and, more recently, Reagan Democrats in the 1980s. They include lifelong Republican Tricia Moseley, a former staffer for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, the one-time segregationist from South Carolina. Now a high-school teacher, Moseley says she was attracted to Obama's positions on education and the economy.

Former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough, who anchors MSNBC's "Morning Joe," says many conservative friends--including Bush officials and evangelical Christians--sent him enthusiastic e-mails after seeing Obama's post-election speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. "He doesn't attack Republicans, he doesn't attack whites and he never seems to draw these dividing lines that Bill Clinton [does]," Scarborough told NEWSWEEK.

Plenty of Republicans are immune to the Obama swoon, of course. The Republican National Committee has emphasized a recent analysis suggesting that Obama had the most liberal voting record in the Senate last year. But even small numbers of Obamacans can help reinforce the candidate's unity message and bolster his "electability" argument. In Iowa, the campaign identified more than 700 registered Republicans who committed to caucusing for Obama (although staffers say they don't yet know how many showed up to vote). And in the Super Tuesday state of Colorado, campaign staffers say they found more than 500 erstwhile Republicans who were willing to switch their party registration.

Even if Republicans don't convert in more significant numbers, the friendly outreach may blunt the ferocity of GOP attacks. One senior aide to John McCain has already said he's reluctant to attack Obama: last year, McCain's adman Mark McKinnon wrote an internal memo promising not to tape ads against the Illinois Democrat if he were the nominee.