Republican mayor of Fairbanks says he endorses Obama

Jim Whitaker says he supports Democrat's plans for energy policy

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In this staunchly Republican state, the Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor has broken party ranks and publicly endorsed presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Mayor Jim Whitaker said he is not rescinding his party affiliation, just backing the person he believes is best suited for the job.

"Our nation is in need of leadership the country as a whole can believe in," Whitaker said.

He described Obama as a "man of significant and promising judgment. I think we need that at this time."

A spokesman for presumed GOP nominee John McCain's campaign said the Arizona senator looks forward to getting bipartisan support as well.

"Sen. McCain enjoys a great deal of support from both Democrats and independents alike," said spokesman Rick Gorka. "As we continue to move forward with our message, 'Country First,' we expect to capture a great deal of Democrats who will, in the end, help carry the state of Alaska for Sen. McCain."

Obama won Alaska's Super Tuesday caucus over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, collecting 75 percent of the support in a record turnout. On the Republican side, McCain fared poorly, finishing fourth behind Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul.

Whitaker said he liked Obama's forward-looking energy that includes development of renewable and alternative energy that can benefit the resource-rich state.

"If we are as a nation concerned with energy, then our consideration should be a national energy policy that is not predicated on crude oil 50 years into the future," Whitaker said. "We need to get to it, and I think Barack Obama is very clear in that regard."

In a prepared statement, Obama said he was grateful for the support, especially from a region where the cost of heating fuel more has than doubled in the last four years.

"Fairbanks residents are paying some of the highest energy prices in the country," Obama said. "Mayor Whitaker knows firsthand the importance of solving our energy crisis.

Whitaker once supported McCain, in the 2000 primary, but McCain's support for the war in Iraq changed that.

"(McCain) made the adamant statement that, 'I know how to win wars,"' Whitaker said. "Those were some telling moments for me.

"That is a damned poor approach to public policy, and it's a damned poor approach to national policy. I would like a president who has the wisdom to avoid wars."

Whitaker's district is heavily tied to the military, and includes both the Army's Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.

Whitaker, who spent four years in the state House, realizes his endorsement doesn't carry much weight, mainly because of geography.

"We are a still long ways from anywhere," Whitaker said. "It's difficult for me to put significant importance on an endorsement from the mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

"Having said that, there are many, many people in the Republican party and in the independent category who I think need to understand it's perfectly appropriate to judge candidates based on merit rather than party affiliation."

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