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Politics

Switching Parties Is A Sign of Political Trouble

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee still faces long odds to win a second term.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee is reportedly planning on becoming a Democrat. He served in Congress as a Republican and as governor of Rhode Island as an independent.(AP Photo/Providence Journal, Frieda Squires, Pool)

News that independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is becoming a Democrat ahead of his 2014 reelection effort makes some sense, given that he'd face long reelection odds as an independent candidate.

But switching parties has not worked out well for a number of recent politicos. The late Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the state's longest-serving senator, became a Democrat in 2009 only to lose his party's nomination the next year. Former Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, who was elected as a Democrat, became a Republican and lost in the GOP primary in 2010 to Mo Brooks. And former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida became an independent after it became clear he would lose a Senate primary to Republican Marco Rubio in 2010. Now, he's running again in the high-stakes 2014 contest against incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott, this time as a Democrat.

Chafee, whom President Obama welcomed to the party on Wednesday through a spokesman, is joining what is shaping up to be a competitive primary field.

 

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who championed public-employee pension reform, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who has won union backing, earned high marks from voters in a recent Brown University survey. Chafee, on the other hand, earned "excellent" or "good" ratings from only 26 percent of respondents.

"I don't know that Chafee will make it through a Democratic primary," said a national Democratic official who would only speak on background because Chafee hadn't officially changed parties. "It will be highly competitive."

Here's a look at recent party-switchers and how their change affected them.


((AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File))

Who: Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who went from Republican to Democrat.

Why he switched: Specter was open about his reason: politics. He admitted he would struggle to win in a GOP primary. He faced the prospect of a challenge from Republican Pat Toomey, who would go on to win the 2010 general election, in a year that saw the tea party movement come into its own. Here's how Specter put it in April 2009: "I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate -- not prepared to have that record decided by that jury."

What happened: Specter lost a Democratic primary to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, 54 percent to 46 percent.


 

(AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Who: Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama, who went from Democrat to Republican.

Why he switched: Griffith represented a conservative district as a Democrat at a time when his party passed the unpopular Affordable Care Act. The Huntsville, Ala., district voted for John McCain by 61 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2005 for George W. Bush. Constituents at town hall meetings booed him, even though he said he disagreed with his party leadership. Griffith cast the change as a part of his independence from party leaders. "Unfortunately there are those in the Democratic Leadership that continue to push an agenda focused on massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts and a health care bill that is bad for our healthcare system," Griffith said in 2009.

What happened: Mo Brooks defeated Griffith in the 2010 GOP primary, winning 51 percent of the vote to Griffith's 33 percent. Griffith, though, "I think the Republican Party is a snowball headed to hell right now and has no idea how to attract the Hispanic or the black vote," Griffith said in 2013.


 

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Who: Former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who went from Republican to independent to Democrat.

Why he switched: Crist faced the tea-party-backed Rubio in the GOP Senate primary in 2010, but couldn't win the backing of conservatives and backed out of the contest to run as an independent in the general election. Now Crist is returning to the political scene to challenge Scott, whose approval rating is just 36 percent. In December, Crist announced his second change on Twitter, saying he was "proud and honored to join the Democratic Party."

What happened: Crist dropped out of the Republican primary and lost as an independent to Rubio in 2010, placing second with 30 percent of the vote to Rubio's 49 percent. Despite Scott's weakness in the polls, Crist won't skate back to the governor's mansion in 2014. Republicans say they expect Scott will dump his own money into the race, a tactic that will likely include a heavy dose of negative advertising. Stay tuned.

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