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Party-Swapping In The Heartland

By September 16, 2007

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Update1: Originally published 8 September at 21.55
Former Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-RI), a moderate who voted against the Iraq War Resolution (and the only Senate Republican to do so), has left the party.

Chafee, who lost his bid for re-election in 2006, said, "The national shadow just got too great for me." According to the article, the 2006 election marked first time since the Civil War that the six New England states combined have only one Republican in Congress, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT).

Original Article
In the 2006 election, the big name party-swap was Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who ran as an independent after he lost his party's nomination. From New West Politics comes this news: moderate Republicans in the heartland are party-switching.

Some them aren't doing it quietly. Principled or opportunistic? You be the judge.

In Missouri, State Sen. Chris Koster (formerly chair of the Senate’s GOP caucus) is considering a run for Attorney General. On 1 August, he quit the Republican Party with this speech (excerpts):

During my 13 years in elective office, I have always considered myself a political moderate. I joined the Republicans in 1994 because of my strong sentiment toward tough law enforcement policies and because of a guiding belief that limited government and pro-growth economic strategies provide the best course for Missouri. As the elected prosecutor of Cass County, the challenges of administering the social agenda of the far right-wing of the Republican Party never touched my day-to-day world.

However, three years in Jefferson City have opened my eyes to that social agenda and the limitations it places upon so many aspects of our common lives, including limitations on medical research, on economic development, on public health and social tolerance.

In a prior era, during the tenure of former Republican Senator Jack Danforth, political moderates existed comfortably within the Missouri Republican Party ranks. Today, Republican moderates are all but extinct. When I came to the senate, I naively thought I could influence a change in this regard. It is painful for me to admit today that I was wrong.


Even on the historically Republican issue of economic development, the influence of the far-right has been toxic. Two years of Republican infighting has brought two years without an economic stimulus package for Missouri’s farmers and businessmen. Investment in biotech and life sciences, widely seen as this state’s last, best hope for emerging sector growth, has been scuttled by religious extremism. And when the self-professed party of Lincoln was given the strongest opportunity in generations to reach out to struggling communities with a helping hand, with jobs, construction incentives and community revitalization in House Bill 327, “veto” was its response.

While each of these issues has played important roles in my decision, no issue has so singularly drawn a line in the sand as the issue of stem cell research in Missouri.


Let us be clear as to their extremist agenda. The Republican desire is to criminalize early stage stem cell research in our state. The very same Harvard scientists celebrated throughout the world for their potentially life-saving research would, within the borders of Missouri, be imprisoned for fifteen years for conducting the identical laboratory work.

He's not alone, although his has been the most public party bashing.

In Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison and Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, both Democrats, jumped parties within the past two years.

Last month in Nebraska, State Auditor Kate Witek became a Democrat. Was the switch on principle, like Koster's .... or was it opportunistic, like Lieberman's? The two-term auditor had decided not to seek a third term; instead, she ran as Tom Osborne's lieutenant governor running mate. They lost the May primary.

Earlier this summer, Illinois State Rep. Paul Froehlich switched from the minority to the majority when he announced he was becoming a Demcrat.

Several Democrats have switched as well, but most of them are in the south. Given that the Democratic party in the south is historically conservative socially, this does not seem to me like as much of a shocker. One exception, Dawn Pettengill (Iowa) was elected to the state House in 2004 as a Democrat and switched to the Republican party in 2007 because she was unhappy with Democratic Party leadership.

Principled or opportunistic?


September 9, 2007 at 3:08 am
(1) Tom Head says:

Is it really fair to call Lieberman’s party switch opportunistic? After all, he ran as a Democrat and voted with the Democratic caucus once elected. He did everything within his power to remain a Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut, and technically ran as an independent (still referring to himself as a loyal Democrat) only when Democratic voters ousted him in the primary.

September 9, 2007 at 3:04 pm
(2) uspolitics says:

Hi, Tom — most people who lose the primary nomination don’t thumb their noses at their party’s voters by launching a 3rd party campaign.

I think his action was opportunistic because he was more concerned about retaining his seat in the Senate than abiding by the consensus of the state Democratic party.

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