Voters took down another incumbent party-switcher on Tuesday in Alabama, two weeks after Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter lost his party's nomination.
Freshman Republican Rep. Parker Griffith, who switched parties in December, was defeated by Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, 51 percent to 33 percent. In a statement explaining his joining the GOP last year, Griffith said, "I am a conservative and believe that our American system of free enterprise works best when we limit government involvement." And, at a press conference Wednesday morning, Griffith said he has no regrets about leaving the Democratic Party. "I do not regret changing parties," he said. "I think it may have been, politically, a mistake, but on principle, it was the right thing to do."
Switching parties during their congressional terms and before election season, proved lethal for Griffith and Specter, and could become a textbook example of failed campaign politics. "You go to a new party, and the President may welcome you with open arms," says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "But Joe six-pack won't, and that's what matters."
Still, party-switching can't shoulder alone the blows in places like Alabama and Pennsylvania. The anti-incumbent mood this year is "very serious," says Brown. "People are unhappy with what they perceive their government to be doing." Staple issues like healthcare, the economy, congressional spending, and high unemployment rates seem to be fueling voter anger. The next test for incumbents will be the Arkansas runoff election next Tuesday between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. [See where Lincoln's campaign cash comes from.] Also on that day, primaries in California and Nevada will determine GOP candidates for Democratic incumbent Sens. Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid.
Brown says the anti-incumbency wave may not impact the GOP as much because the party has fewer incumbents.
Four-term Republican Sen. Richard Shelby dodged the anti-incumbent bullet and won his party's nomination with 84 percent of the vote in Alabama. He will face Democratic attorney William Barnes in November. The state's Republican incumbents Jo Bonner and Spencer Bachus were unopposed in their districts' primaries. In Mississippi and New Mexico no incumbent candidates, all of whom are Democrats expect for Mississippi's Gregg Harper, faced opposition in Tuesday's primaries. [See which industries are giving the most to Shelby's campaign.]
But while some current lawmakers managed to survive the primaries, they are not immune to anti-establishment shots that will be fired in the midterm election. Candidates have a "Long way to go until November," says Brown. "If nothing changes in terms of public mood, it will be a very bad year for incumbents."