The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Party-Switchers? Hard to Picture, at This Moment . . .


Before the election, a few readers wondered about party-switchers.

I have yet to hear any serious talk about it, but it’s pretty clear that there’s a profile for a party switcher: a lawmaker who votes with the other party — often on social issues — and who represents a state or district where the opposition party usually wins by wide margins in the presidential races. Sometimes the flip is triggered by the lawmaker acknowledging that the national party’s dominant ideology no longer fits him (Parker Griffith, Jim Jeffords) or a sudden realization that winning a future primary appears impossible (Arlen Specter). The experience of Specter and Griffith suggests that party-switching really isn’t such an effective way to extend your congressional career: Your old party hates you and your new party doesn’t trust you.

So who fits this profile? Looking over the map . . .

Mike Ross. Arkansas-1: Although it’s hard to picture one of the chairs of the Blue Dog caucus leaving the Democrats. Note that in a year where Arkansas Republicans romped, Ross won by 17 points.

Dan Boren, Oklahoma-2: Boren’s party loyalty is tied to family loyalty; his grandfather was a congressman, his father, David Boren, was a governor and senator. As a younger man, Boren worked as a district aide to a Republican. Wes Watkins. He declined to endorse Barack Obama in 2008.

On paper, one might think John Barrow, in Georgia’s 12th district, but he just won by 13 points and Obama carried his district while losing the state by 5 percentage points. All of the surviving North Carolina Democrats may conclude, with some evidence, that if they can survive this wave, with Burr winning by a wide margin at the top of the ticket, they can survive almost anything.

Of course, there is the possibility that with redistricting any one of these Democrats may find themselves with suddenly more Republican districts and reconsider how much they want the D next to their name.

UPDATE: Brian Faughnan writes in, wondering if some Democrats like Heath Shuler might prefer voting the same way but as part of the majority (particularly if he suspects the Democrats will not be winning back the House anytime soon). Possible, but I suspect that in this polarized environment, the risks associated with that are greater than they were in, say, late 1994-early 1995.


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