Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican, endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama this morning.
"Like many, I’m astounded at Barack Obama’s meteoric rise as a candidate, but I have no doubt that his is the leadership we need and that the world is crying out for," Leach said during a telephone conference call with reporters, arranged by the Obama campaign.
"I also have no doubt that a lot of Republicans and independents are going to be attracted to his call for a new era of nonideological, bipartisan decision-making."
Leach, a Davenport native who moved to Iowa City in 2002, lost his bid for reelection in 2006 after three decades representing portions of eastern Iowa in congress. Leach is considered a "moderate" Republican.
"Basically from my perspective, this is simply not a time for politics as usual," Leach said. "The portfolio of issues that are going to be passed on to the next president will be as daunting as any since the Great Depression and World War II and that means that the case for inspiring new political leadership and a social ethic has seldom been more self-evident."
Leach’s wife, Debra, has contributed the maximum amount allowed to Obama’s campaign. Jim Leach was an early critic of the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq. Leach has said it likely would rank as one of the greatest foreign policy "blunders" in U.S. history. "I’m convinced that the national interest requires a new approach to our interactions with the world," Leach said this morning, "including a recognition that a longterm occupation of Iraq is likely to be dangerously destabilizing and that it’s preferable to speak with rather than shun potential adversaries."
Leach is now part of a group of Republicans who are actively encouraging other Republicans to back Obama. "Barack Obama’s platform is a call for change, but the change that he is so gracefully articulating is more renewal than departure," Leach said. "…It is rooted in very old American values that are as much a part of the Republican as the Democratic tradition. There’s an emphasis on individual rights, fairness and balance at home and progressive internationalism."
Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, says Leach’s decision mirrors that of many Iowa Republicans who’ve left their party, as there are now 90,000 more Democrats in Iowa than Republicans on the voter registration record. "It seems to me that there are some big shifts going on in this state," Harkin says. "…The people of Iowa are saying that they want to give the Democrats a chance."
Harkin spoke with reporters this morning to mark the opening of six Obama campaign offices in what the Obama campaign described as rural areas of the state. The offices are in Carroll, Grinnell, Indianola, Iowa Falls, Muscatine and Spencer. "I can tell you Senator Obama is not taking this state for granted," Harkin said. "…We’re going to have to work for it and we intend to do so and we intend to earn every vote."
Iowa’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Charles Grassley, says Leach has always been an independent sort. "I’m a little surprised that Jim would do that. I know Jim’s been very moderate and not always in tune with the party and that’s one of the reasons for his success," Grassley said this morning during a telephone conference call with Iowa reporters. "(Leach) has a reputation for being very independent, but I don’t think it’s going to make much difference in the election beyond Iowa."
According to Grassley, McCain appeals to "moderate" Republicans in the same way Leach appealed to those voters during his 30 years in congress. Grassley endorsed Bob Dole in 1995 and campaigned extensively for Dole before Dole’s 1996 Iowa Caucus win, but Grassley did not endorse a candidate in advance of the 2008 Caucuses.
Leach has been the interim director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government. He’ll be returning to Princeton this fall to teach at his alma mater. During a conference call with reporters this morning, Leach shot down the idea that his endorsement may mean he’s being considered for a post in an Obama administration.
"That would be totally and completely inappropriate for anyone to conjecture about position in a new government," Leach said. "A, it’s inappropriate and B, it may be against the law." Leach expressed hope, though, that Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel — another Republican — is on Obama’s list of potential running mates.