Bad year for party switchers

posted at 8:48 am on June 2, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

One difference should be noted between two party switchers in Congress this term, Arlen Specter in the Senate and Parker Griffith in the House.  Specter bailed out of the GOP in order to join the majority as well as to avoid what looked like a brutal primary challenge from a former Republican Congressman.  Griffith switched out of frustration with Democratic leadership to join the minority, and at the time didn’t appear to be worried about a primary challenge.  Those differences are real, but in the end, purely academic — since both ended up getting the boot in the primaries from challenges within their new parties:

Five months after U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith switched parties, the voters of North Alabama switched congressmen.

On Tuesday, Republican challenger and long-time conservative Mo Brooks handily won the three-way GOP primary, earning 35,712 votes, or 51 percent, and sending the incumbent home. Brooks avoided a runoff by about 600 votes.

Griffith received 23,495 votes, or 33 percent, and former Navy pilot Les Phillip earned 11,066 votes, or 16 percent.

As with Specter, the party switch itself became an issue against the newly-minted Republican:

Throughout the campaign, Brooks had repeated a similar theme of America at risk due to budget deficits and a drift to socialism. But most of his best lines were aimed at his chief opponent, as he labeled Griffith “arrogant,” an unprincipled “chameleon” and a poll-driven “parrot.”

Griffith, who had fired back that Brooks was a “career politician,” instead campaigned on various Republican talking points, arguing  for a reduced rate of corporate income tax, a moratorium on the capital-gains tax, the repeal of recent healthcare reforms and the repeal of the estate tax.

Griffith apparently didn’t do much homework before switching parties.  He failed to engage local party leaders, who wound up issuing endorsements for the other two candidates in a pointed slap at Griffith.  Griffith had the backing of the national Republican establishment, which was grateful for his switch even if it didn’t change the calculus of floor votes in the House as Specter’s switch did (at least in theory) for the Democrats in the Senate.  But this isn’t a good year for establishment candidates, either, as Griffith found out.

This district hasn’t elected a Republican in over a hundred years, but the primaries indicate that could change.  Brooks won 7,000 more votes in the GOP primary than Democratic winner Steve Raby won in his primary contest.  The level of voter enthusiasm and opposition to the current Democratic establishment could carry Brooks and the Republicans to a historic victory — and this time, with a real Republican candidate.


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