Tuesday, December 22, 2009

4 Retirements and a Defection

Politico reports this morning that Southern Democrat Rep Parker Griffith (D-AL) is switching parties:

Rep. Parker Griffith, a freshman Democrat from Alabama, will announce today that he’s switching parties to become a Republican.

According to two senior GOP aides familiar with the decision, the announcement will take place this afternoon in Griffith's district in northern Alabama.

Griffith’s party switch comes on the eve of a pivotal congressional health care vote and will send a jolt through a Democratic House Caucus that has already been unnerved by the recent retirements of a handful of members who, like Griffith, hail from districts that offer prime pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2010.

The switch represents a coup for the House Republican leadership, which had been courting Griffith since he publicly criticized the Democratic leadership in the wake of raucous town halls during the summer.

Griffith, who captured the seat in a close 2008 open seat contest, will become the first Republican to hold the historically Democratic, Huntsville-based district. A radiation oncologist who founded a cancer treatment center, Griffith plans to blast the Democratic health care bill as a prime reason for his decision to switch parties—and is expected to cite his medical background as his authority on the subject.

It appears that House Democrats may be getting nervous. They read polls, regardless of what they may or may not say about them and perhaps, at least a number of them, see where their party is and it aint anywhere near where the public is at this point.

Griffith's defection seems significant in that he is but a freshman member and a Blue Dog. The jump from D to R isn't a great leap as Politico notes but important given where his Alabama district is: Though it has never elected a Republican to Congress, Griffith’s seat has a long conservative tradition and has backed Democrats who have a brand independent from the national party. As a result of the district’s Democratic heritage, Democrats still hold the majority of state legislative seats within the 5th Congressional District’s boundaries.

The district, however, is trending Republican: A wave of new residents is moving into the Huntsville suburbs, where the area’s burgeoning aerospace and defense industries have created a miniboom. And those voters, with fewer ties to the area’s past politics, have been reliably Republican at the national level.

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