It was probably bound to happen sooner rather than later. Alabama’s fifth district is one of the few in the South held solidly by Democrats since Reconstruction thanks to economic development on the backs of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the military’s Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Flight Space Center. But in recent years social issues have begun to increasingly sway voters in a district that Charlie Cook rates R+12. When Rep. Bud Cramer, a Democrat who represented the district for 18 years, retired in 2008 Dems feared they wouldn’t hold the seat. Enter Parker Griffith, a retired oncologist and a state senator. Griffith eked out a 52%-48% victory over a Huntsville insurance agent, even though John McCain carried the district with 61% of the vote. The DCCC spent $1.2 million on the race.
Upon his arrival in Washington Griffith joined the Blue Dogs, but quickly soured on the Democratic agenda, voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the stimulus bill, President Obama’s first budget, the climate change bill, financial regulatory reform and health care reform. Griffith was particularly outraged by President’s decision to abandon a planned missile shield in Eastern Europe – Redstone Arsenal is where the first ballistic missiles were developed. So it’s not a huge shocker that today at a 2pm press conference he’s expected to announce he’s switching parties.
Griffith’s announcement underscores the nervousness of the Blue Dogs – fiscally conservative Dems – after a year of record spending. Four of them have announced their retirements in recent weeks, creating tough open seats for Dems to defend next November. Certainly, the GOP is trumpeting the coup. “He just could not stomach what the Democrats are doing any longer,” Rep. Mike Rogers, another Alabama Republican, told Fox News, likening the defection to that of Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana six years ago. Added Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican in a statement, “When a Member of congress decides to leave a 258-seat majority to join a deep minority, it is a sure sign that the majority has become completely disconnected from seniors, young workers and families in America.”
Griffith’s switch, though, doesn’t guarantee him a safe reelection. The district’s local governments are all solidly Democratic and there’s already talk of outraged donors looking to get their money back. Certainly the Blue Dogs PAC and Jim Clyburn’s PAC, both of which gave $10,000 to Griffith this cycle, must not be pleased with their investment and the DCCC is looking to try and reclaim their $1.2 million. “Mr. Griffith, failing to honor our commitment to him, has a duty to return to Democratic Members and the DCCC the financial resources that were invested in him,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of the DCCC said in a statement. As of today, Griffith had raised $793,000 for his reelection. He is likely to face a primary challenge (as Redstate is encouraging) and the Club for Growth reacted negatively to the news noting Griffith’s vote for the omnibus bill and cash for clunkers, has a long list of earmarks. Plus, his vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker will surely come back to haunt him, especially with the Tea Party crowd. On the surface switching parties in such a conservative district might have looked like a good idea but Griffith now must defend the title “most liberal Republican in Congress” in an age when Republicans are eating their own. If ever a RINO existed, Griffith comes closest to the definition and in switching he may have just jumped from the frying pan and into the fire.