WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama has switched some of his positions to more neatly fit the conservative mold along with abandoning the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
In an election questionnaire for a major labor union, for example, he said in 2008 that he would not support renewing a raft of tax cuts that Republicans passed under President George W. Bush. He also backed a "card check" proposal making it easier for employees to form labor unions, according to the internal survey, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
He now says his views have changed.
Griffith may have little choice but to backtrack if he wants to keep his job. With many Democrats feeling burned by his defection, his re-election depends largely on the Republicans who voted against him when he narrowly won the seat with 52 percent of the vote in 2008.
He faces stiff competition in the Republican primary this summer, and many conservatives already are questioning his credentials.
"Having an `R' next to your name doesn't mean you're in favor of limited government," said Mike Connolly, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, which works to replace moderate Republicans with conservatives and has criticized Griffith. "He can call himself what he wants, but he's going to have a tough time convincing people he's a committed pro-growth conservative. He's going to have to start demonstrating it."
Griffith declined an interview, instead issuing a statement saying that economic instability made him reconsider Bush's tax cuts and that he decided against card check after fully reading the legislation. In the same labor survey, he said he supported setting a date for withdrawing from the war in Iraq _ a major partisan divide at the time.
"As a sitting member of Congress, finding America in the crisis that it is in, I needed to revisit every issue," he said. "There were several issues that, on the whole, I was in support of before coming to Congress. However, since that time, we have seen our country change dramatically."
Griffith, 67, doesn't have a long track record because he won his first elected position late in life _ a state senate seat in 2006. But his record in Congress has been mostly conservative.
While he supported some Democratic spending legislation and the Cash for Clunkers bill that Republicans overwhelmingly opposed, he routinely bucked Democratic leaders on top priorities such as health care, the budget and global warming. According to a Washington Post database, he voted with the Democratic Party about 85 percent of the time. But most of those votes were procedural or symbolic, and even at 85 percent he was one of the most independent lawmakers in the House.
Generally, he says he simply found Democrats in Washington to be more liberal than he expected.
Republican leaders in Washington say they have faith that Griffith's conversion is sincere. Although they said they gave him no financial guarantees, he is likely to get campaign help from the party establishment, which was thrilled with the opportunity to trumpet his conversion as evidence that Democrats have shifted to the left.
Griffith's real challenge will be in convincing local Republicans that he's one of them.
Mo Brooks, a Republican county commissioner running for the seat, said party officials he has talked with are skeptical _ viewing Griffith's conservative votes and eventual party switchh as the product of political calculation rather than conviction.
"He's trying to be everything to everyone," Brooks said. "Voters want leadership. They don't want flip-floppers."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.