Ashley BellRepublican Mitt Romney has tapped a former Democratic politician from Georgia to help steer his campaign’s crossover coalition, an effort to exploit the president’s fraying relations with independent voters.

It’s been nearly a decade since anyone seriously considered Zell Miller, the fiery former governor and senator, a Democrat. Instead, Romney elevated a Democrat of another breed: a young, charismatic black comer, Ashely Bell.

Bell, a north Georgia county commissioner, once served as the president of the College Democrats of America and landed a speaking role at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

He first won public office in 2008 on the long coattails of President Barack Obama, but not two years later the young Democrat found himself drifting from orbit and soon staged a political defection that drew the sustained interest of political elites in Washington.

But despite his full embrace of Romney, for whom he served as a surrogate at this year’s NAACP conference, Bell was unceremoniously booted in the August Republican primary contests. (No bad blood, though: he remained a delegate to the GOP convention last week.)

Bell said Thursday that Obama’s “first term has been nothing short of a fiscal disaster.”

“Four years ago, I supported President Obama. When he campaigned then, he promised to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington,” Bell said in a release widely circulated by Romney aides two hours before Obama formally accepted his party’s nomination.

“His message of uniting all Americans―it didn’t matter if they were Democrats, independents, or Republicans―was an inspiring one,” he said. “Unfortunately, his first term has been nothing short of a fiscal disaster.

“This week, the national debt surpassed $16 trillion. Meanwhile, 23 million people around the country find themselves struggling for work. We cannot continue down this course. We need new leadership in the White House. Mitt Romney has the experience and the vision to get our fiscal house in order and revive our economy.”

Other co-chairs of the group include Greg Anthony, a CBS basketball on-air analyst and a former first round NBA draft pick in 1991; Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama; Jane Edmonds, a former secretary of workforce development in Massachusetts; and Barney Bishop, a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. All but Bishop are black.

Senator John McCain, the previous GOP nominee, had a similar coalition that was primarily comprised of former prominent Hillary Clinton boosters, still smarting from a primary loss to then-Sen. Barack Obama.

– James Richardson