The most dramatic story from Tuesday’s primaries was the overwhelming defeat of Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Parker Griffith in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.
Stalwart conservative State Rep. Mo Brooks whalloped Griffith by a margin of 51% to 33%, despite the incumbent’s support from the National Republican Congressional Committee and a spending advantage of nearly 10-to-1 over Brooks. The remainder of the primary vote went to businessman Les Phillips, who also ran to the right of Griffith and had the backing of former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The results were an embarrassment to some national GOPers. Seven months ago, Griffith (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 56%) made headlines when he switched parties less than a year after taking office as a freshman congressman. He is now the third member of Congress to be denied being nominated by his party, joining Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah and Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia.
“I was mildly surprised by the margin myself,” a triumphant Brooks told HUMAN EVENTS in an interview on the day after the primary. “But we won primarily because of people who shared my concern for the future of our country.”
The GOP nominee and onetime Madison County district attorney cited “the unsustainable deficits we face, which could lead to national security threats, and the drift we are experiencing from free enterprise to socialism. The folks in control—[Speaker Nancy] Pelosi in the House, [Majority Leader Harry] Reid in the Senate, and Obama in the White House — are taking us toward socialism one step at a time.”
When asked if he wanted to see those words in print, Brooks replied: “Absolutely. That’s what I said in the campaign.” He recalled that he earned a degree in economics from Duke University with honors and said, “I know the difference between free enterprise and socialism.”
Griffith was never a comfortable fit for local Republicans. A physician and state senator, he won the ’08 election for the open House seat narrowly (51% to 49%) over Republican businessman Wayne Parker. After Griffith switched parties, Parker told HUMAN EVENTS that he could not back his former opponent after he campaigned against then-Democrat Griffith’s liberal stands and associations, including his donation to Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
For all Griffith’s public criticism of Pelosi, Brooks said he cast important votes that obviously pleased the liberal speaker. As Brooks noted, “he voted against the Republican alternative to cap-and-trade legislation and against the conservative substitute to the healthcare legislation that eventually passed the House.”
Both Parker and 1990 GOP House nominee Stan McDonald (later top aide to the late Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt) weighed in strongly for Brooks. Local Republican leaders State Sen. Paul Sanford and State Rep. Phil Williams also backed Brooks.
“Most importantly, we had volunteers who were committed,” Brooks said. “When you distributed 7-10,000 brochures over Memorial Day weekend, that’s commitment.”
Although none of the local Tea Party organizations in the 5th District formally endorsed any of the GOP hopefuls, Brooks did have the personal endorsement of the leaders of the Athens, Huntsville, and Physicians Only Tea Party groups. He also noted that the Huntsville Tea Party group endorsed ABPG — “Anybody But Parker Griffith.”
Coupled with the rejection at the New York State GOP convention of State Chairman Ed Cox’s choice of Suffolk County Executive and recent Democratic convert Steve Levy for nomination for governor, the lesson from Alabama-5 is an easy one for Republican highers-up: Be careful what kind of converts you try to force upon the grass-roots.