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Sunday | October 27, 2002

Top Arizona Republic considers switching parties

During the 80's and early 90's, the GOP's ascendency was rewarded by a slew of party switches by Democrats to Republicans.

In the Senate:
Phil Gramm of Texas (1983)
Richard Shelby of Alabama (1994)
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (1995)

In the House:

Bob Stump of Arizona (1981)
Eugene Atkinson of Pennsylvania (1981)
Tommy Robinson of Arkansas (1989)
Bill Grant of Florida (1989)
Andy Ireland of Florida (1984)
Nathan Deal of Georgia (1995)
Billy Tauzin of Louisiana (1995)
Greg Laughlin of Texas (1995)
Mike Parker of Mississippi (1995)
Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana (1995)
The GOP has had better luck keeping its members in line. The last and only GOP senator to bolt the party for the Democrats was a Sen. Fred Dubois of Idaho, in 1924. In the House, the one and only Rep to switch GOP to Dem (that I could find, anyway) was NY's Michael Forbes in 1999.

Yet the GOP's winning streak is in great peril. Already, the party has lost VT's Jeffords, who switched to Independent status last year. And, the party is sweating RI's Chaffee, who may or may not bolt the GOP if his current party wins or loses the Senate.

There has been no such movement in the House, which is far more ideologically polarized than the more centrist Senate. However, as the Democrat ascendency continues (as presaged by the Judis and Teixeira's The Emerging Majority), expect more Republicans to consider the leap. And if the Dems can retake the House and keep the Senate, the trend may accelerate as moderate Republicans abandon life in the minority for greener pastures in the majority (especially since the GOP's southern leadership barely tolerates its more moderate bretheren).

Arizona is on the bleeding edge of this phenomena. One prominent McCain advisor, political consultant Marshall Wittman, has already bolted from the GOP and made noises about McCain following in his footsteps. Now we get word that the co-chairman of Matt Salmon's (R) gubernatorial campaign, former AZ Attorney General Grant Woods, will become a Democrat after the election.

The defection of the former state attorney general would be a coup for Arizona Democrats, who have been courting moderates. Chairman Jim Pederson said he'd be thrilled to have Woods join the party.

"He's a thoughtful, articulate person," said Pederson.

Republican Party Chairman Bob Fannin didn't want to comment.

Woods said he has become increasingly upset by the Republicans' lack of outreach to Hispanics and the conservative wing's domination of the GOP's agenda.

Earlier this year, he spoke out when the state GOP didn't endorse Arizona schools chief Jaime Molera in the primary, which he eventually lost.

"It's the party of Lincoln," Woods said. "But I don't know that Lincoln would recognize it. I'm trying to remember why I became a Republican in the first place."

After years of intra-party battles, the moderate wing of the GOP at both the national and state levels has taken a serious beating. Given the rise of the Right and the nation's shifting demographics, expect more of these Republicans to pull up stakes and cross over to the more receptive and inclusive side of the aisle.

Posted October 27, 2002 12:01 AM | Comments (21)


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