“The fact that he has the courage to analyze the problems with the current administration on the issues of unifying diverse interests in America and creating jobs tells me this is a guy with a lot of principle,” said Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who said he plans to call Davis in the next few days to welcome him to the party.
Davis, a centrist who opposed the Democratic health-care bill, said he may run for elected office as a Republican in Virginia.
Republicans saw in Davis’s announcement potent confirmation of their charge that Obama has failed to spark economic growth or deliver on his promises of fostering more national unity, both central planks of Davis’s critique.
In Virginia, Republicans saw in the black Harvard graduate an appealing potential candidate who could shake up the growing Democratic sway in the state’s D.C. suburbs.
“All I can say is his analysis of the problems facing America are spot-on and his credentials are impeccable,” said McDonnell. “That’s a great start for being a candidate in Northern Virginia or anywhere else in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Davis’s drift from the Democratic Party had been building for years, and Democrats dismissed his desertion as a tactical shift by a politician with wounded ambitions: Davis left Congress after he ran for governor of Alabama two years ago but failed to win his party’s nomination for the job.
But Davis’s political profile, his past vocal support of Obama and his pointed critique of the Democratic Party do create an opening for the GOP. Davis was the first congressman outside the president’s home state of Illinois to endorse Obama in 2007.
In an interview, Davis said he believes there is little tolerance in Democratic politics for “center-right” views like his own.
“The conventional wisdom in this town is that the Democrats have stayed in one happily tolerant place and that Republicans have moved to the hard right,” Davis said. “I can assure you that in the Democratic Party, there is substantial intolerance for people who deviate from the party line.”
As an example, Davis cited widespread criticism from the left of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who apologized last week after saying on “Meet the Press” that he disagreed with attacks by the Obama campaign on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s record as a former executive at the private-equity firm Bain Capital.
“The timing of that was purely coincidental,” Davis said. “But it certainly was Exhibit Number 32 of the point I’m making.”