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A turncoat's baggage

Another incumbent politician bites the dust

Once again, the voters have signaled that 2010 is likely to be a bad year for incumbents - especially for those who are perceived as turncoats.

Last night, in Alabama, congressman Parker Griffith got the Arlen Specter treatment. In other words, he was fired by an electorate that didn't buy his recent party switch and instead decided that he was just a rank opportunist trying to keep his job.

Griffith was actually Specter's mirror image; last December, he split from the Democrats and donned the GOP label, figuring that he had a better chance to win re-election as a Deep South Republican. He gave himself five months to convince Republican primary voters that he was one of them. But last night he managed to convince only 33 percent. The majority chose a county commissioner, Mo Brooks, who insisted that he was the true Republican in the race. Brooks fatally tagged Griffith as a "flip-flopper," and drew strong support from the tea-party crowd.

The broad parallels to the Specter saga are striking. Just as the Democratic establishment had rallied to Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, the Republican establishment quickly embraced Griffith when he switched parties. House GOP leader John Boehner headlined a Griffith fundraiser, and various Boehner colleagues opened their checkbooks for Griffith, who vastly outspent Brooks and a third candidate. The party establishment assumed that Griffith would be welcomed, especially since previous Alabama Democrats had seamlessly switched to the GOP (for instance, Senator Richard Shelby) without suffering any local voter backlash.

Also last winter, GOP chairman Michael Steele hailed Griffith as a guy whose "principles and values" were "right for America" - which was actually quite hilarious, given the fact that, in the 2008 House campaign, the Republican establishment had assailed Griffith as soft on terrorists and therefore "wrong for Alabama," and in TV ads it had slimed his medical credentials (he's an oncologist) by claiming that he had been "under-dosing" his cancer patients.

Yet, all of a sudden, in the spring GOP primary, here was the GOP establishment touting Griffith as a certified Republican loyalist. The problem was, too many Alabama Republican voters still remembered how the GOP leaders had beaten up on Griffith a mere 19 months ago. So last night the voters dismissed the leaders' revisionism as a phony exercise - just as Pennsylvania's Democratic voters spurned their party establishment's strategic embrace of former foe Specter.

Clearly, the leaders of both parties are on notice: Voters this year have little tolerance for political insiders who appear to be practicing politics as usual. And party-switchers who seek only to maximize their re-election prospects are seen as the worst offenders.


The sole proprietor of this blog is on the road for the month of June. Virtually all June posts will be briefer than the norm, except on those rare occasions when posts won't show up at all. Apologies in advance for this disturbance in the force. The standard verbosity will return on Monday, June 28.