GOP Eyes Potential Defectors
House Republicans are already examining which Democrats might want to switch parties after Nov. 2 and are mapping out a strategy for how to persuade them to make the leap.
Republican aides and lobbyists said there are a handful of Democratic Members whom GOP leaders plan to target, with Member-to-Member conversations beginning immediately after the midterm elections. Incentives for switching sides could include a leadership-level position or seat on a powerful committee such as Appropriations or Ways and Means.
“You are looking for someone who has been there three, four or five terms who has a shot at going up the ladder,” said John Feehery, a GOP strategist who served as communications director to former Speaker Dennis Hastert. “One who is enticed by a committee chairmanship or one who their districts are so terribly bad that voting for Pelosi would be the end of them.”
Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Walt Minnick (Idaho) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) are all on the Republicans’ target list. Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) are also considered potential gets.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are working on a counterstrategy to try to thwart any GOP poaching, and they are even eyeing a few Republicans they think might be willing to join their ranks. “There are certainly contingency plans being put in place if in fact the ratio is two or three [lawmakers] in different directions,” a former Democratic leadership aide said.
Democratic leaders have been trying to make sure their vulnerable Members know how valuable they are to the Caucus by campaigning for them and contributing to their re-election efforts. After Nov. 2, Democrats also plan to stay close to potential party switchers to try to prevent any defections, the former aide said.
“Obviously they are going to try and steal Members,” a senior Democratic aide said. But the staffer predicted that neither side would have much, if any, success.
The most recent examples of party switching include Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who defected to the Democrats in April 2009, and Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.), who broke from the Democrats in December 2009. Both Members were defeated in primaries earlier this year.
The senior Democratic aide predicted that Members will be discouraged from switching sides after having watched Griffith and Specter lose, as well witnessing the losses of a number of Republican establishment candidates this cycle.
And the aide argued that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) wouldn’t be able to guarantee those would-be switchers that he could protect them in 2012.
“They can’t even get their own chosen people elected,” the aide said, referring to a string of tea party candidates who have knocked off establishment-backed Republicans in primaries.
“They were card-carrying, lifelong, previously elected Republicans and still got defeated.” Democrats who switch will end up “on K Street begging for a job because you switched parties,” the aide said.
Democratic lobbyist John Michael Gonzalez, previously a top aide to moderate Rep. Melissa Bean (Ill.), agreed.
Boehner “can promise the gavel, but he cannot promise re-election in 2012,” Gonzalez said.
But Republicans don’t seem discouraged. Republicans believe they will benefit from redistricting next year, making it easier to ensure GOP victories going forward.
Republicans believe Boren may be the most likely party switcher. Boren has been known to side with the GOP, and he was the only Democrat to go on a 2009 Congressional delegation trip to Europe led by Boehner.
Some Democrats are viewed as a tougher get. Taylor, for instance, has been a prominent critic of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But sources say he hasn’t made any inroads with Mississippi Republicans this cycle, which would signal he’s willing to move to the other side of the aisle.
“Our Members would not be running this hard if they wanted to switch,” another Democratic leadership aide said. “Plus, the last Member to switch lost his election.”
While it’s less likely that Democrats would be able to lure Republicans over, Democratic aides and lobbyists point to a few who might be in play. Reps. Charles Djou (Hawaii), Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.), and David Reichert (Wash.) are considered possible Democratic pickups, although each is vulnerable and may not win re-election this year.
Daniel Son, Djou’s spokesman, immediately dismissed talk of his boss’ changing teams: “While Congressman Djou is flattered that Democrats believe that he would be a valuable member of their caucus, he is absolutely not interested in switching parties.”
Cao, considered the most threatened GOP House Member this cycle, has “no intention of switching parties,” either, said Taylor Henry, the lawmaker’s spokesman.
A longer shot for Democrats would be Rep. Walter Jones Jr.(R-N.C.), a one-time Democrat who switched parties in 1994.
Asked about the possibility of Jones returning to the Democratic ranks, communications director Catherine Fodor said in an e-mail: “Congressman Jones is actively campaigning as a Republican candidate and looks forward to being a part of the Republican majority next year.”
Party switching isn’t uncommon after a major Congressional power shift. In 1995, after Republicans took control of Congress, several Democratic Members including then-Reps. Billy Tauzin (La.), Jimmy Hayes (La.), Nathan Deal (Ga.) and Greg Laughlin (Texas) joined the GOP. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) left the Democrats just days after the 1994 elections.
In most cases, Republican leadership promised Democrats senior positions on influential committees. Laughlin was offered a seat on the Ways and Means Committee. Tauzin became deputy Majority Whip and later took over as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Hayes, now a lobbyist, said he decided to become a Republican because he wanted to pass the Clean Water Act.
“I could only say that at the time legislation was moving forward and the events that were unfolding within the Democratic caucus, there was a bizarre circumstance,” Hayes said.
Hayes later lost his bid for Senate against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
“It would be a different circumstance when changing parties today because the level of antagonism is so different today,” Hayes said. “There was no hate to it.”