A conservative Alabama Democratic congressman, Rep. Parker Griffith, is reportedly jumping across the aisle to join the GOP, generating howls of protest from... the GOP?
From a partisan standpoint, there are few things better than a lawmaker switching parties—it's a free seat, the other guys fronted the campaign money to put him there, and the abandoned party is left to explain what it is about their philosophy that’s driving its members away.
But influential conservative activist Erick Erickson, one of the prime players in backing a third-party candidate against moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava in New York's 23rd District (they both lost), has now put Griffith in his crosshairs.
“We will not fix the GOP’s problems if we keep allowing people who are not one of us to suddenly switch the letter next to their name and magically become one of us,” Erickson wrote.
"We will not fix the GOP’s problems if we keep allowing people who are not one of us to suddenly switch the letter next to their name and magically become one of us," Erickson wrote on RedState.com, an influential conservative blog in a post that went up even before news of Griffith's switch became official. "Being a Republican should be about more than just the letter next to a person’s name. We can improve that seat."
On paper, Griffith seems like an obvious Republican pickup: He's pro-life, he voted against the health-care bill, cap and trade, and the stimulus, and his district went for John McCain in 2008 by 23 points, even as he eked out his House win by a mere four points. Erickson cited Griffith’s numerous earmark requests rather than any specific position in announcing his opposition to the congressman’s arrival in the Republican Party.
Erickson isn't alone. Club for Growth, which backs fiscal conservatives in primaries, is also already on the attack.
"This party switch signals Griffith's nervousness, but it doesn't signal that his incumbency is safe," the group's vice president, Andrew Roth, wrote in a blog post that also focused on earmarks.
With many observers predicting big gains in the House for the GOP in 2010, the conservatives’ view might seem counterintuitive; any new seat on the Republican column, after all, enhances the party’s influence at a time when the Democrats hold a 257-178 advantage in House seats (that’s factoring in Griffith’s switch). And Griffith represents a GOP pickup in especially hostile territory; a Republican has never held his Dixiecrat seat before.
But then again, Griffith was the target of a lot of Republican venom in his 2008 campaign. He was the subject of one of the single toughest campaign ads all year, in which the National Republican Congressional Committee produced TV spots alleging that Griffith, an oncologist, once undertreated his cancer patients in order to skim higher profits off their illness. Griffith denied the claims and said they were based on a 1987 review that was influenced by medical rivals threatened by his growing business. Two local stations refused to run the ad at first after complaints by Griffith's lawyers, but later agreed to air it after changes were made, according to the Huntsville Times.
There is at least one indication that the Republicans have warmed up to Griffith since then; the NRCC has pulled the ad from their YouTube account.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.