Politicians who switch parties after being elected to office may bask in the limelight during the brief period after their party hopping, but almost all end up in the ash heap of history, with both their political careers and personal reputations tarnished forever. With state Representative Laura Bradford (R-Collbran) publicly debating whether to leave the GOP over an ethics investigation into police allegations of drunk driving, we thought it would be instructive to look at how other political defectors fared post-switch.
In Colorado, one need not look further than the Legislature. In 2007, state Representative Debbie Stafford defected to the Democrats over Republican criticism of her vote on a bill being pushed by trial lawyers. She ran for Mayor of Aurora in 2011 and got barely 11% of the vote, despite being the only high profile Democrat in the race.
In 2009, Democrat state Representative Kathleen Curry left her party to become an Unaffiliated voter. She lost her race to Democrat Roger Wilson, ending her political career as she knew it.
How about looking nationally?
In an acknowledgment that he couldn't fend off a primary challenge from Pat Toomey, Republican US Senator Arlen Specter switched parties to become a Democrat. He went on to be defeated in the Democrat primary by 8 points, despite having the backing of the Democrat Party in Pennsylvania and the political support of the Obama White House.
Pat Toomey is now a US Senator from Pennsylvania.
Republican US Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont was promised a committee chairmanship if he defected to the Democrats. Like Bradford's potential switch, when he did jump it changed the balance of power in the US Senate, giving Democrats control. All hell broke loose, but 18 months after Jeffords joined the Democrat majority in the US Senate, Republicans won back the majority in the 2002 mid-term elections.
When Jeffords retired, only one Republican Senator spoke on his behalf on the Senate floor. Jeffords traitorous behavior lost him the respect and friendship of colleagues he had served with as far back as 1974, when he was first elected to the House.
In Alabama in 2009, Democrat Congressman Parker Griffith ditched the Democrat Party to become a Republican. In 2010, Griffith lost the Republican primary 51-33 to now-Congressman Mo Brooks.
Or look to Florida. In 2010, Republican Governor Charlie Christ was afraid of losing the GOP US Senate primary to rising star, and now US Senator Marco Rubio. So Crist ditched his party and ran for the US Senate as an Independent. Rubio crushed Crist by almost 20 points in the general election, even beating him with independents, according to exit polls.
Crist is now persona non grata in Florida politics.
Why does party switching pretty much never work out for the defector? It smacks of self-interest and petty politics.
Based on the harshly negative view held towards people like Debbie Stafford, Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter, it seems better for a politician contemplating switching parties to just resign.
Better to lose your job and keep your reputation than chuck both overboard.