TAMPA, Fla. – One of the president's early supporters, former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, emerged on the prime-time stage at the Republican convention – giving voice to those disillusioned by the promise of the Obama White House.
Almost every convention has one, a party-switcher who becomes a star in their new political home. Davis left the Democratic Party after a failed run for Alabama governor in 2010. Next week, the Democrats will put former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida on stage, as a Republican now supporting Obama.
But the presence of Davis, an African American who seconded Obama’s nomination four years ago at the Democratic convention in Denver, offered a particularly poignant message.
“Do you know why so many of us believed? We led with our hearts and our dreams that we could be more inclusive than America had ever been, and no candidate had ever spoken so beautifully," said Davis, the Harvard-educated lawyer who has been mulling a run for office as a Republican from his new home in Virginia.
"Let's put the poetry aside, let's suspend the hype, let's come down to earth and start creating jobs," he said to cheers.
Davis served four terms in the House, voting for many of Obama's policies, before stepping aside for his failed run for governor.
Democrats have had an increasingly difficult time in the Southern states, and his speech could be seen as an audition for a home in his new party.
Key figures in the Congressional Black Caucus criticized Davis’ flip as "transparent opportunism" as he considers his political options. Fourteen members of the group announced their "disdain" for his criticisms of Obama in a letter signed by veteran civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and others.
The former congressman, a fellow at Harvard, has positioned himself as one in the shrinking class of moderate political thinkers – a centrist unwilling to embrace extremes at either end of the party.
On Tuesday, Davis sought to speak directly to those who have been disappointed by Obama, particularly the independent voters both parties want.
"There are Americans who voted for the president, but who are searching right now, because they know that their votes didn't build the country they wanted," he said.
Davis challenged restless Democrats to recognize their party today, quoting a pop song: "Somebody that I used to know."
Invoking John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton as Democratic presidents who reached across the aisle, he bemoaned the Democratic Party's emphasis today on inequality. He tapped into the GOP's growing criticisms over welfare.
"Kennedy asked us what we could do for America. This Democratic Party asks what can government give you," he said.
He thanked his fellow Republicans for welcoming him to the party. "America is a land of second chances, and I gather you have room for the estimated 6 million of us who know we got it wrong in 2008 and who want to fix it."