After Switch, Griffith Still Faces GOP Heat at Home

Posted January 20, 2010 at 6:46pm

Friday marks the one-month anniversary of Rep. Parker Griffith’s (R-Ala.) surprise party switch, and the new obstacles the freshman Congressman faces as he looks to his re-election are being underscored at county Republican meetings taking place in northern Alabama this week.

Tonight, the Limestone County GOP Executive Committee is expected to take up a resolution that would oppose including Griffith as a Republican on the 5th district primary ballot this June. The 15-point resolution essentially states that while Griffith may now call himself a Republican, he has done little to prove that he truly belongs in the Grand Old Party.

The vote in Limestone County comes three days after the Madison County GOP Executive Committee passed two resolutions regarding Griffith’s upcoming re-election fight. The first encourages Republican primary voters to support anyone but Griffith, and the second asks the national party — specifically the National Republican Congressional Committee — to keep its nose out of the district’s primary.

Griffith said in an interview Wednesday that he’s not surprised by what has transpired at home since he joined the Republican Conference.

“I think people are adjusting to me changing parties,— Griffith said. “It’s not awkward. … In general I am very, very happy— with how the process has gone.

Griffith downplayed the significance of what is happening at his county GOP executive meetings this week.

“The vast majority of constituents are not participating in these meetings and will ultimately make a decision based on their own independent thoughts,— the Congressman said.

But the challenge facing the House’s newest Republican in his upcoming primary is hard to overstate. He has less than five months to win over the 5th district Republican voters who are engaged enough to turn out in a nonpresidential year. It’s safe to say the vast majority of those voters worked very hard in 2008 to keep Griffith from winning his Congressional seat as a Democrat.

Griffith is doing his best to show his conservative credentials. On Wednesday, his office released a statement that applauded Sen.-elect Scott Brown’s (R) victory Tuesday night and announced that he had signed a pledge sponsored by the anti-tax group the Club for Growth to repeal any government-run health care plan passed by Congress.

But in an environment that seems to be getting better every day for Republicans, many GOP voters remain skeptical about the reasons behind Griffith’s decision to jump off the Democratic ship.

“I am finding people less and less open to the idea that Griffith has had a sincere change of heart in switching political parties,— said Christie Carden, founder of the Huntsville Tea Party.

Carden said her group plans to play an active role in the upcoming primary and has already discussed holding fundraisers for Griffith’s two primary challengers, Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and Navy veteran Les Phillip.

Brooks has served as a county commissioner since 1996 and represents about 45,000 people around Huntsville. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2006, and though he came in third in the Republican primary, he garnered more votes in the 5th district than both of the top two candidates in that race combined.

Phillip is an African-American who has helped the state and national party with minority outreach.

Carden said either man is a better conservative option than Griffith.

She pointed to the fact that the Congressman donated to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) when he was a Democrat.

“There are numerous local accounts that he was very much for a universal health care plan before he opposed Obama’s plans in 2009,— Carden added. “Just the other day, someone close to me who had planned on voting for Griffith told me they would change their vote because they believe he is a blatant opportunist.—

As he looks to battle that perception and win over Republicans, Griffith’s biggest asset is his huge campaign war chest.

Griffith did not have fourth-quarter fundraising numbers available but said Republican money has started to pour in since December.

“We’re receiving support from national Republicans, we’re receiving support from state Republicans, we’re receiving a lot of support from Sen. [Jeff] Sessions [R-Ala.] and Rep. Robert Aderholt [R-Ala.], who welcomed me into the fold. It’s just been a warm reception,— he said.

Griffith ended September with more than $600,000 in cash on hand, and though he’s begun to return money from Democratic donors, he won’t be hurting for money come June. The Congressman also has deep pockets. He gave his own campaign more than a quarter-million dollars during his 2008 run.

Brooks will report a little more than $210,000 in cash on hand, a figure that was boosted by a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign. Phillip could not be reached Wednesday but reported just less than $32,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.

Brooks said Wednesday that considering the cash differential in the upcoming primary he’s even more appreciative of what the county GOP committees are trying to do this week.

“I’m proud of the Madison County Republican Party for taking a leadership role,— he said. “They could have sat back and done nothing and risked voters being fooled by the huge quantities of advertising Griffith’s going to be able to pay for. They stood tall on principle.—

Heading into tonight’s vote in Limestone County, Jim Burden, who serves as chairman of the county committee, said he doesn’t think Griffith has had a true change of heart in the month since his party switch, but he also believes the Congressman’s name should remain on the GOP primary ballot.

“He didn’t stand on conservative positions in his other campaign. [But] people can change,— Burden said. “He’s got four or five months before the primary to convince people he can change. I say let him stay on the ballot and let him try to convince people he’s changed.—