Whitaker is convention's northern star

SPEECH: Republican mayor of Fairbanks supports Obama.

August 27, 2008 

The only Alaskan to address the 2008 Democratic National Convention so far?

That would be Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker -- a Republican -- who told a national TV audience Tuesday that he's supporting Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president despite their party differences.

"We are Americans first -- not Democrats, not Republicans," Whitaker told the partially filled convention hall in the lead-up to the evening's major address by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"I'm here tonight because I know the change we need requires a leader with a steely resolve, a powerful vision for our future and a passion for helping working people," he said.

So how did the Republican mayor of one of the staunchest GOP strongholds in Alaska ever get invited to speak to the nation's top Democrats?

Quite suddenly, Whitaker said in a telephone interview soon after he left the rostrum.

It began two weeks ago when he held a press conference in Fairbanks to publicly announce his support for Obama. He'd chosen to do so, he explained then, partly out of his admiration for Obama's vision for the future and partly out of his disappointment with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and McCain's support for the war in Iraq.

A few days later, an Obama campaign spokesman called Whitaker and invited him to speak at the convention.

"In the end, it came down to whether or not my endorsement was for real, or if it was just something that was said off the cuff. It wasn't said off the cuff. It is real. I think (Obama's) the better person for the job."

In his brief address to the convention, Whitaker stressed the need for a national energy policy based on self-reliance and "the resources we have right here at home -- from domestically produced natural gas, including liquefied natural gas from Alaska, to biomass, wind and solar."

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