In the short term, it won’t mean much. Griffith voted against Obamacare last month. It does mean he is a much more certain “no” this time around.
In the long term, this could be very, very big.
On the surface, an Alabama Congressman switching from the Democrats to the GOP is not a huge surprise – and the Dems are praying most of their caucus members will leave it at that and move on. There’s only one problem: the district is not traditionally Republican district. In fact, Parker Griffith is now the first Republican to represent upper northern Alabama (my term) in over 140 years.
Prior to Griffith winning the open seat in 2008, Bud Cramer won nine terms from the 5th District as a Democrat; his worst year was, of course, 1994.
So if Griffith, who certainly considered his political viability when he made this move, is more comfortable as a Republican in a district that hasn’t elected one since Reconstruction, what are other “Blue Dog” Democrats in districts with far more recent Republican success going to think?
One of the things I was pondering as the discussion of Obamacare was churning was just how wrong people had the Dems. The assumption most have is that the Democrats are more than willing to take major losses – even lose Congress – to get this passed and “change the game.” The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. After all, there is virtually no chance of the Democrats losing the Senate, meaning 5/6 of the Dem caucus is seeing themselves in 2011 in the same position they’re in now. Likewise, Nancy Pelosi et al – like most in America – find it hard to believe that the Republicans will actually seize control of the House next year. Thus, the Democrats don’t really think they’ll lose anything. Sure some Dems may go down in November, but filibuster-proof Senates are rare indeed, while Pelosi may find it easier to run the House with a thinner, chastened, and more left-wing majority (assuming its the centrist Dems who fall).
Odds are the Democrats figured Griffith, being a freshman, would slowly build his majorities as Cramer did post-1994, while eventually becoming a more reliable vote.
Instead (forgive the repetition, but it’s important), Griffith walked away from a supposedly permanent House majority to join a party whose nominees are on a seventy-one-election losing streak.
Trust me, his former allies will take notice, and start to wonder themselves if walking the plank is really a better idea than taking a walk on certain votes (or even, in a few cases, walking across the aisle).