Democratic congressman defects to GOP

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Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on Tuesday, a startling defection from the majority party in the House that underscores the difficulties facing Democrats in midterm elections next year.

Mr. Griffith, a 67-year-old radiation oncologist, blasted the Democratic leaderships’ health care overhaul, saying the bill is bad for doctors and patients.

“I believe our nation is at a crossroads and I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy and drives us further and further into debt,” said the freshman lawmaker form a conservative-leaning district in northern Alabama that includes his hometown of Huntsville.

Mr. Griffith often sided with Republicans on major votes, and his switch does little to deflate House Democrats’ overwhelming majority. But his unusual decision to join the minority party sent a strong message to Democratic leaders.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said Mr. Griffith had betrayed his Democratic colleagues and demanded that Mr. Griffith return campaign funds.

“Mr. Griffith, failing to honor our commitment to him, has a duty and responsibility to return to Democratic members and the DCCC the financial resources that were invested in him,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “His constituents will hold him accountable for failing to keep his commitments.”

Mr. Griffith’s party switch follows retirement announcement from several moderate House Democrats, fueling expectations that Republicans will pick up a significant number of seats in the midterm elections. Democrats maintain a 79-seat majority, 257 to 178. But several polls show a strong majority of Americans disapprove of the Democratic-led Congress’ performance. A Gallup Poll released last week found that 69 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress’ performance.

Republicans welcomed Mr. Griffith, who was considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and said his conversion reflected a disconnect between Democrats and most Americans.

“From the massive stimulus bill that wasted billions of dollars and failed to create jobs, to a job-killing cap-and-trade energy tax, to a government takeover of health care - the Democrat majority has pursued an agenda far outside the mainstream,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

“Democrats are beginning to realize what most Americans did months ago,” he said, “that their priorities are not in line with what Americans want right now, which is job growth, economic security, a safe and secure nation and a fiscally sane Congress that doesn’t spend money that it doesn’t have.”

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Mr. Griffith’s decision should send a “deafening message” to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, that their “agenda of borrowing, spending, bailouts and takeovers is being rejected by the American people.”

Mr. Griffith, who narrowly won election in a district that overwhelmingly backed Republican John McCain for president, has not been a reliable vote for Democrats. He opposed Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus, the health care bill and climate change legislation - the cornerstones of the Democrats’ agenda.

“All year long, Alabamians have been well-served by Congressman Griffith’s support for conservative principles and his rejection of Washington Democrats’ wrong-headed, liberal policies,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

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