John Martin loves the GOP and wants to remain a Republican. But the party he grew up supporting has changed, he said, and Mitt Romney is doing nothing to keep his loyalty.
The Republican presidential nominee lacks the will or desire to stand up to “extremists” who have gained a sturdy foothold in the party, Mr. Martin said, and President Obama is far from the socialist demon portrayed by GOP leaders.
For that, the politically active New Jersey resident said, he will vote for Mr. Obama.
“I’m just very unhappy with the state of today’s party,” said Mr. Martin, who heads a group and website called Republicans for Obama. “Although Gov. Romney would have been a great candidate, the Mitt Romney we see today is too beholden to the party’s [conservative] base and to the hard right.”
Mr. Martin isn’t alone. While the vast majority of Republican voters are likely to support the former Massachusetts governor for president, some say they will back Mr. Obama because of the GOP push to the political right.
Lowell Weicker endorsed Mr. Obama despite serving three terms in the Senate and a stint in the House as a Republican from 1969 to 1989. Now an independent, he quit the Republican Party soon after leaving Capitol Hill — not because he had changed politically or ideologically, he said, but because the party had.
The Republican Party increasingly has turned its back on the inner cities and minorities while pandering to religious conservatives, rural communities and the middle and upper classes, he said, and he doesn’t see a swing back to the political center anytime soon.
“The Republican Party has changed from being a party of fiscal conservatism and social moderation [to] become a ‘praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ party,” he said from his home in Connecticut, where he served as governor from 1991 to 1995 as a member of a third party he created.
“I see little that gives me any faith in terms of the Republican candidates for the presidency and vice presidency that would indicate a direction that I think the country ought to go in,” he said.
Yet Mr. Weicker, 81, said his support for Mr. Obama also hinges on respect for the job he has done since taking office in January 2009, when the economy was in worse shape than today. The president’s task was significantly more difficult than it should have been, he said, because of obstructionism from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“There’s far more common sense in President Obama in what he wants to do and what he’s done than there iscoming from the Republican Party,” the former Republican lawmaker said.
Other Republicans turned independents who have endorsed Mr. Obama’s presidency include former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and current Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Both have been given speaking spots at the Democratic National Convention this week in Charlotte, N.C.
Mr. Martin agrees that Mr. Obama has governed well under “very difficult circumstances.” He said the Illinois Democrat is far less liberal than how most Republicans portray him. He pointed to tax cuts that Mr. Obama included in the 2009 economic stimulus package that made up about a third of its cost, according to many estimates.
Mr. Martin also applauded the president’s 2010 health care reform law, which he says is strikingly similar to Republican and conservative proposals of years past, including a highly touted plan by the Heritage Foundation in the late 1980s and Mr. Romney’s health care reforms enacted while governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.
“A lot of Republicans at first thought Obama would come in and propose single-payer [option for health care insurance] or would propose a federal government option, but he didn’t,” Mr. Martin said. “He adopted what up to that point was a Republican plan.”
Teresa Sayward, a Republican New York Assembly member who was first elected in 2002, said she will vote for Mr. Obama because Mr. Romney — and all of the other Republican presidential candidates this year — proposed what she considers anti-women policies.
“It’s disheartening for me to see our party move away from what it was always about, and that is to stay out of people’s lives, let them live their lives, don’t impose their religion on anybody else, don’t impose their feelings, let them live and uphold the Constitution,” she told a New York political TV program in March.
“I really, truly think that the candidates that are out there today for the Republican side [for president] would take women back decades.”
In the 2008 presidential election, about 9 percent of self-identified Republicans who voted supported Mr. Obama, exit polling showed. The Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, received about 10 percent of Democratic voters.
It’s unlikely that the president will duplicate his crossover rate of four years ago, polling and political analysts suggest. Gallup polling shows that about 6 percent of Republicans say they will vote for the president, and the same percentage of Democrats say they will support Mr. Romney. A Pew Research survey taken in July showed identical numbers.
Gone is the advantage Mr. Obama had four years ago, when he won the support of some moderate Republicans who opposed key Bush-era policies such as the Iraq War, the USA Patriot Act and the administration’s penchant for spending.
Voters viewed both major 2008 presidential candidates as centrists and consensus-building candidates — at least compared with the highly partisan climate at the time, said national pollster John Zogby. This year, voters are much more likely to cast ballots for their respective party’s nominee.
Enthusiasm among Republicans also is much higher than in 2008, and low approval ratings for Mr. Obama aren’t helping him attract Republicans.
“It’s [political] war, essentially,” Mr. Zogby said. “Even when voters have expressed dismay and have been disappointed in either candidate, they go to the ‘not sure’ column as opposed to saying they’re going to vote for the other guy.”
Mr. Martin, who heads the Republicans for Obama group and who voted for the Illinois Democrat in 2008, said he has taken much flak from other members of his party, who have called him communist, socialist and liberal. But he said a big part of his mission is to remind Republicans of their party’s history of being a coalition that accepts divergent views.
“People don’t realize that 4 million Republicans voted for Obama in 2008, and moderate Republicans — those who aren’t in the hard right and most vocal parts of the party — a lot of times people forgot about us,” he said.
Whether he stays with the Republican Party depends on what happens in November. An Obama win, he hopes, would foster discussion and self-examination within the GOP to return to its “big tent” roots.
He said he fears that a Romney win would serve as justification for conservatives to continue remaking the party in their likeness.
“I still have a lot of hope that [the GOP] can become more accepting toward moderate Republicans, which in many ways I am, and I want to help reform the Republican Party. I’m not ready to leave,” Mr. Martin said.
“I hope this is the last time I support a Democrat, but I’ll just have to see how the Republican Party responds to this election first.”