Alabama party-switcher Rep. Parker Griffith risks loss in first GOP primary on Tuesday

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

Democrats brought Sen. Arlen Specter into their tent in 2009, after 44 years as an elected Republican. But when his name appeared on the primary ballot as a Democrat this month, voters in Pennsylvania weren’t as welcoming as the national party leaders. He lost.

An Alabama congressman who last year switched from Democrat to Republican in his conservative, southern state now risks a similar fate.

Rep. Parker Griffith will appear on the ballot as a Republican for the first time when Alabama primary voters head to the polls Tuesday. The party-switcher, elected to office as a Democrat in 2008, is facing competition from two other Republicans.

“He announced the party switch in December. That’s a very brief window to convince die-hard Republicans that he was really a Republican,” said Athens State University political science professor Jess Brown.

In Pennsylvania high-profile Democrats like President Obama, Vice President Biden and Gov. Ed Rendell encouraged Specter’s party switch. Likewise, in Alabama Griffith’s switch was supported by national Republicans. Republican leader John Boehner later headlined a fundraiser this spring for Griffith in the district.

Rex Davis of the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee told The Daily Caller that the national GOP support of Griffith over the other primary candidates — Les Phillip and Mo Brooks — was frustrating for local party leaders.

It’s hard to recruit qualified candidates to run for Congress, he said, and Phillip and Brooks put their names on the ballot before Griffith decided to run as a Republican. Some GOPers don’t find it fair to abandon Phillip and Brooks for Griffith.

Also, there’s lingering mistrust among some Republicans in the district because of Griffith’s nasty 2008 congressional race against Republican Wayne Parker.

“That congressional race was a bloodbath. A lot of hard-core Republicans worked hard for Wayne Parker,” Brown said. “When Republican activists talk to me, I sense they haven’t accepted Parker Griffith.”

Yet Griffith could benefit from the history of party-switchers in Alabama, a state that has a long tradition of conservative Democrats going on to become elected Republicans. Long-time Sen. Richard Shelby is one such example, as is Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne, who was once a Democrat.

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