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Ex-Republican senator stumps for Obama now

ST. PETERSBURG — The former Republican senator stood before a sign that read, "Republicans for Obama," with a red elephant blending into the blue "O" of the Democrat's campaign logo.

Lincoln Chafee wanted to convince the audience that they should vote for the senator from Illinois. It didn't take much.

About 25 people nodded and laughed with Chafee at the Fossil Park North Branch Library, one of the stops on his Florida tour to win over Republicans and independents.

The former U.S. senator from Rhode Island and lifelong Republican voted for George W. Bush in 2000 but became disillusioned with him, and defected from the party after losing a re-election bid.

"Watching this Obama phenomenon coming along, it was something to see," said Chafee, urging the audience to spread the word. "We all have to work hard. It's not going to be easy."

Chafee was the lone Senate Republican to vote against the Iraq War resolution. He lost his seat in 2006 to a Democrat, then registered as an independent and cast a ballot for Barack Obama in the presidential primary, his first vote for a Democrat. A recent survey suggests he may not be alone in his dissatisfaction.

An August poll by American Research Group Inc. found that about 34 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents disapprove of Bush's job performance. And Chafee argued Tuesday that politically McCain is not appreciably different from Bush.

Louis Kwall, a Clearwater lawyer and Republican who supports Obama, agreed. He said McCain's vice presidential choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Christian conservative, was evidence that he will continue the ideological partisanship of Bush.

Steve Kochick, the vice mayor of Madeira Beach, said he switched from Republican to independent after the invasion of Iraq. He said he's tried to talk Republican friends into voting for Obama but found that they won't listen to other views. He argues when they send him chain e-mails opposing Obama.

"It's very difficult to get them to at least be open," Kochick said. "I can understand it because I was there for 40 years."

But Kwall said he thinks voters are finding Obama's politics refreshing after years of division.

"I think this election is going to be different," said Kwall, who was head of the Pinellas County Republican executive committee in 1992 and 1993. "They realize the stakes."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Ex-Republican senator stumps for Obama now 09/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 6:21pm]
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