Trends continue as Griffith and Davis lose their Alabama primaries

Primaries in three states tonight, with both the important headlines coming out of Alabama: Repub Parker Griffith is the latest House incumbent to lose a primary, and Rep. Artur Davis lost a gubernatorial campaign by over 30 points that he was expected to win. If these results show us anything, it's what we already know: Americans are sick of Washington politics, Democrats are sick of Republican-lite candidates running in their primaries, and voters can sense naked political opportunism when they see it.

The biggest news of the night is Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama, a Democrat turned Republican, lost his AL-05 primary to Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, 51-23. Griffith’s loss isn’t a big surprise – the Madison County Republican Party endorsed BOTH of Parker’s opponents – but it will play into the national anti-incumbent meme. This is an anti-incumbent year, yes, but as with PA-SEN the real thing to take away from this race is that you can’t ask the base that once vilified you to suddenly embrace you. If voters can sense only one thing, it’s authenticity, and Parker Griffith was anything but genuine.

Regarding the general, according to AL.gov, “The 5th Congressional District has not elected a Republican representative in more than a century, and Brooks will now face Democratic nominee Steve Raby in November.” Raby is a former US Senate staffer running in an anti-Washington year, and half century or not McCain and Bush did each win 60% of the vote here, so it’ll be a tough one to hold.

Also notable is Rep. Artur Davis’ stunning lost to Ag Commission Ron Sparks in the Democratic primary for Alabama Governor. I call it stunning because Davis led Sparks 41-33 just two weeks ago, yet is down 62-38 with 96% of precincts reporting. Another surprise here is that the white Sparks pulled a full 40% of the African American vote. Says Ed Kilgore at FiveThirtyEight, “The CW tomorrow will probably be that Davis thought far too much about positioning himself for the general election before concentrating on the primary, and that Sparks' uncontested claim on endorsements by African-American political groups was a big deal after all.”

Davis did sort of approach the primary with an air of entitlement, having planned to run in this race for years. I used to be a big fan of his, but I can’t say I’m too disappointed by this loss. The closer Davis got to running state-wide, the more conservative he became. I interviewed him for the Dartmouth Free Press in 2006 and wrote a flattering profile, as did the New York Times Magazine in 2008, which at the time he probably deserved. But as Howie Klein observed last October,

His lifetime ProgressivePunch score is 71.09, making him the 165th most progressive member of the House, not close to being a progressive, but not close to being a conservative either. Like I said, he's a moderate-- or at least he was until he decided to run for governor. This year, his score dropped into Republican territory and suddenly he's voting more frequently with the GOP than with the Democrats on crucial issues. His Progressive Punch score plummeted from 71.09 to 28.06!

Davis ran to the right in a Democratic primary, fearing a conservative general electorate. Voters said thanks, but no thanks. Griffith abandoned the Democratic primary altogether, fearing that same electorate. A different set of voters again said no thanks. Voters aren’t stupid – whether they know the facts or not, they can sense authenticity. That’s an important takeaway for candidates in any race: be genuine. Be yourself.

But of course, it’s not the only takeaway. As the media will point out, Davis was the Washington candidate; Sparks was more local. Griffith is another incumbent Congressman to lose his seat in a primary. Tonight will be spun as, and to some extent is, part of the anti-incumbent trend.

AL.com has more Alabama primary results. Mississippi and New Mexico also had primaries, but no House incumbents lost because no incumbents were primaried, so the light turnout is no surprise. New Mexico Repubs did select Susana Martinez to face off against Democrat Diane Denish in the gubernatorial race to replace Bill Richardson; Lt. Gov Denish is likely the favorite.

Ron Sparks Open to Challenging Parker Griffith

Alabama's Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, a current candidate for Governor and would-be Netroots Senate draftee in 2008, isn't ruling out a run next year against Parker Griffith (assuming, of course, Griffith can manage to get through a GOP primary -- which is no sure thing).

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks says he's still running for governor, but he's not ruling out making a Democratic bid for Congress in the 5th District.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Sparks said he's worried about the future of the north Alabama district now that Rep. Parker Griffith has left the majority Democratic Party to become a Republican.

Sparks said he's gotten some calls from members of Congress discussing a possible House campaign in the district. But for now, he's still running for governor.

Griffith is already facing a strong GOP primary challenge, and his cause isn't particularly helped by the news that he contributed to Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Alabama's state Treasurer, Republican Kay Ivey, certainly isn't buying the sincerity of Griffith's intentions, saying, "Political self-preservation isn't a virtue."

But if Griffith is able to make it out of a Republican primary, he just may have his hands full in a general were Sparks willing to switch from the gubernatorial race to the congressional race in the fifth district. So I'm not quite ready to join some like the Cook Political Report in calling this one "likely Republican" -- at least not just yet.

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Parker Griffith Contributed to Howard Dean

As Charles noted earlier today, conservative Democratic Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama has switched parties to run for reelection as a Republican. That came as news to the Republican who already in the race -- and not getting out. What also might come as news to this Republican was Griffith's contribution to Howard Dean.

In his announcement on switching parties to become a Republican, Rep. Parker Griffith touted his long-standing conservative bona fides, saying he had to become a Republican to stand up for his core beliefs.

But just five years ago, Griffith donated $1,500 to the presidential campaign of liberal icon Howard Dean -- with one donation coming when Dean's campaign was already faltering in February 2004.

I'm sure the conservative Republican primary electorate in Alabama's fifth congressional district are going to love supporting a former Democrat who not all that long ago was contributing to Howard Dean. Perhaps making the jump from the Democratic Party to the GOP wasn't the wisest political move for Griffith...

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Rep. Parker Griffith Bolts to the GOP

A Blue Dog no more. Congressman Parker Griffith has switched his political party affiliation and has joined the minority. It's that latter part that is unusual. While politicians switch parties with a relative frequency, the move is generally one from the minority party to the majority party, and not the inverse. Rep. Griffith is serving his first term in Congress and represents the Alabama Fifth Congressional District that stretches across the northern swath of the state and includes Huntsville. The district has long been a Democratic one. It was last in Republican hands during Reconstruction and a Democrat has held the seat since 1869 apart for a two year hiatus when Albert Taylor Goodwyn, a Populist, held the seat from 1896-1897.

Rep. Griffith, a medical doctor by profession, voted against the economic recovery package, the federal budget, health care reform, the cap and trade energy policy, the financial regulatory reform and even against Ledbetter Gender Pay Equality Act. The story in Politico:

Griffith's party switch comes on the eve of a pivotal congressional health care vote and will send a jolt through a Democratic House Caucus that has already been unnerved by the recent retirements of a handful of members who, like Griffith, hail from districts that offer prime pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2010.

The switch represents a coup for the House Republican leadership, which had been courting Griffith since he publicly criticized the Democratic leadership in the wake of raucous town halls during the summer.

Griffith, who captured the seat in a close 2008 open seat contest, will become the first Republican to hold the historically Democratic, Huntsville-based district. A radiation oncologist who founded a cancer treatment center, Griffith plans to blast the Democratic health care bill as a prime reason for his decision to switch parties--and is expected to cite his medical background as his authority on the subject.

While the timing of his announcement was unexpected, Griffith's party switch will not come as a surprise to those familiar with his voting record, which is one of the most conservative among Democrats.

He has bucked the Democratic leadership on nearly all of its major domestic initiatives, including the stimulus package, health care legislation, the cap-and trade energy bill and financial regulatory reform.

He was one of only 11 House Democrats to vote against the stimulus.

"Look at his voting record - he's had substantial differences philosophically with the Democratic agenda here in Congress," said an Alabama ally who is familiar with Griffith's decision. "It's something that's been discussed for the last several months... talking to people in his family. And it genuinely is a reflection of where he feels. It's his own personal conviction."

The move negates the gain in the NY-23. It also reflects a broad realignment of political forces and a deepening regional polarization that is taking place. Matt Yglesias also makes a key point over at Think Progress noting that "the Democrats' current huge majority with 257 members isn't remotely sustainable."

To get a majority that big you need to win a lot of districts you just can't reliable win. Substantial losses in 2010 and/or 2012 are basically inevitable. That said, there are still a few GOP-held House seats that could plausibly be won by a reliably liberal Democrat. The real issue is whether the Democratic majority can add a few seats like that, and contain losses enough to maintain 220-230 reasonably reliable votes and thus the effective ability to govern.

I wrote the other day that I expected a Jacksonian reaction against the Party. This counts as part of that reaction.

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