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Democrats highlight ex-Republicans in convention's opening night

September 04, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Maria Ciano waves as she takes the stage during Day One of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Maria Ciano waves as she takes the stage during Day One of the Democratic… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It’s difficult to find Republicansat the Democratic National Convention unless they are protesting in the free speech zone outside the convention center.

But a handful of ex-Republicans are attending the convention, something organizers tried to hit home on opening night Tuesday -- even though some have not voted Republican for some time.

First was Doug Stern, a former Republican firefighter who said he was supporting Obama after seeing Republican governors try to cut back collective bargaining rights for first responders and other public workers.

PHOTOS: 2012 Democratic National Convention

“Enough of this disrespect for the middle class,” Stern said, as the crowd cheered. “Enough of their far-right agenda.”  

Later came Maria Ciano, lead-off speaker in what can only be described as the pro-choice section of the night. (Next up was Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America). Ciano said she came from a conservative Republican family in Aurora, Colo., and that they couldn’t believe she was speaking at the DNC.

“I no longer believe in the Republican Party,” she said. “They want employers to decide what kind of birth control coverage I have, or if I can have it at all. They want to deny me the power to make the most personal decisions about my life. That’s not small government. That’s not the America I love.”

Ciano also stars in an Obama campaign video, “Republican Women for Obama.” A BuzzFeed reporter found that Ciano has been a registered Democrat since 2006.

Then came Lincoln Chafee, who represented Rhode Island in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1999 until 2006. After he lost his reelection bid, he left the GOP to become an independent, and was elected governor in 2010.  

“As the nation’s only independent governor, I am here tonight to join with my Democratic friends,” Chafee said. “As a former Republican, I represent Americans who all too often have no one to speak for them.”

PHOTOS: Protests of the Democratic National Convention

Chafee appealed to fellow moderates to stand with Obama, citing what he described as harmful Republican policies for women and their lack of fiscal responsibility.

Perhaps the most high-profile defector, Florida’s former Republican governor, Charlie Crist, will speak to the convention Thursday night.

In 2008, Crist endorsed John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, against Obama. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but changed his registration to “unaffiliated” midrace when his campaign fell far behind the more conservative Republican, Marco Rubio, who ultimately won the seat -- and who spoke at Romney’s convention last week.


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