A FRIEND IN FRIED I’ve been following these Obama-endorsing Republicans with great interest, but there’s clearly a distinction between surprising GOP support and the more predictable GOP support. Scott McClellan? Not a surprise. Ken Adelman? A surprise. Colin Powell? Not really a surprise. William Weld? A mild surprise.

But Charles Fried is not only a surprise, he’s a first of sorts. Cass Sunstein reports:

Charles Fried, a professor at Harvard Law School, has long been one of the most important conservative thinkers in the United States. Under President Reagan, he served, with great distinction, as Solicitor General of the United States. Since then, he has been prominently associated with several Republican leaders and candidates, most recently John McCain, for whom he expressed his enthusiastic support in January.

This week, Fried announced that he has voted for Obama-Biden by absentee ballot. In his letter to Trevor Potter, the General Counsel to the McCain-Palin campaign, he asked that his name be removed from the several campaign-related committees on which he serves. In that letter, he said that chief among the reasons for his decision “is the choice of Sarah Palin at a time of deep national crisis.”

Fried is not only a respected lawyer and credible voice on judicial issues, he’s been an advisor to the McCain campaign. And as of this week, he just couldn’t go through with it. He’d seen what McCain had become, and he threw his support to Obama.

Are there practical implications of notable Republicans siding with Obama? It’s hard to say without any real data, but I do think it undermines of the McCain campaign’s central talking points — Obama the “extremist.” I suspect there are probably at least some independents out there wondering, “If Obama is so far from the mainstream, why do Colin Powell and a bunch of Republicans keep endorsing him?”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.