- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Democratic nominee for governor, Parker Griffith, is calling for new leadership in his party after losing by the largest margin since Alabama became a two-party state.

The former congressman from Huntsville said his party is divided into factions that don’t work together and can’t raise money.

“We’ve got to have new leadership,” he said in an interview.

Party Chair Nancy Worley was re-elected in August to a four-year term and said she plans to serve it.

“It’s always easy when you lose an election to point a finger elsewhere and not examine yourself,” she said.

Worley was surprised by Griffith’s criticism because after the election she appointed Griffith to a committee to chart the party’s vision for the future, and he recently attended the first meeting.

“I thought an experienced candidate who has been both a Democrat and Republican should have input,” she said.

Griffith is a former state Democratic senator who was elected to Congress in 2008. He switched to the Republican Party after his election and got defeated in the Republican primary in 2010. He lost the Republican primary again in 2012. Then he switched back to the Democratic Party to run for governor in 2014.

He separated himself from Republican incumbent Robert Bentley by advocating a state lottery and an expansion of Medicaid. But he pulled only 36 percent of the vote, which was the worst showing by a Democrat candidate for governor since Republicans became a significant force in Alabama politics in the 1980s. Elsewhere on the ballot, the Democratic Party lost every statewide race, saw its minority in the Legislature get smaller, and surrendered many county offices traditionally held by the party.

Griffith, a retired cancer physician, underwrote nearly half of his $1.1 million campaign, and the state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association, provided much of the rest. He did not draw significant donations from some of the party’s traditional donors.

Griffith said the Alabama Democratic Party is divided into three factions led by Worley; former party Chairman Mark Kennedy; and Joe Reed, chairman of the party’s black wing, the Alabama Democratic Conference. He said the factions don’t work together and traditional donors are reluctant to give money because of the divisions.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party can continue in its present form and be a viable party,” Griffith said.

Kennedy declined comment.

Reed said Griffith had trouble raising money for his campaign because Bentley was a popular incumbent and because Griffith’s party switching created “a major trust factor” for those who had been loyal to the Democratic Party through good times and bad.

Griffith, 72, said he would be willing to serve as an interim party chairman to try to unite Democrats, but he has no interest in a long-term leadership position.

In his view, new leadership must craft an image for the Alabama Democratic Party that appeals to the white, blue-collar males who have switched to the GOP. For him, that means getting away from the national party’s support of abortion, gun control and gay marriage.

“We’ve got to separate ourselves from the far left in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Reed said he supports Worley, and Griffith need not anticipate a call to lead the party.

“No one is going to turn the party over to him, no sir,” Reed said.


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