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Fleeing Sinking Ships or Looking for Better Future? Top-5 Cases When US Congressmen Switched Parties

© REUTERS / Carlos Barria / The mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties, a donkey for the Democrats and an elephant for the GOP, are seen on a video screen at Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio March 8, 2016
The mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties, a donkey for the Democrats and an elephant for the GOP, are seen on a video screen at Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio March 8, 2016 - Sputnik International
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While switching parties is not common among elected members of Congress, there have been 24 such cases over the course of the American legislature’s 230-year history. The motives of those who have chosen to change their allegiance range from political disagreements with the party line to pure spite.

Capitol Hill has recently been rocked by reports that Jeff Van Drew, one of the two House Democrats who refused to support impeachment against Donald Trump, is planning to switch to the Republican Party. The reports came after poll results showed that his opposition to impeachment might cost him his re-election, but he is yet to confirm the rumours.

If the reports turn out to be true, Jeff Van Drew will become the 25th elected congressman to change his political party and the 20th Democrat lawmaker to switch over to the GOP. Sputnik has gathered five other famous or curious examples of when congresspersons have decided that the grass might be greener on the other side of the aisle.

Gone in 30 Minutes... Before Deadline

Changing parties is not always an easy decision to make, as a lawmaker could lose the support of his electorate while not gaining anything in return. But Democrat Rodney Alexander managed to beat everyone – running for re-election to the House in 2004, he filed to switch his party to Republican just 30 minutes before the deadline and only three months prior to his election.

The move was apparently well-founded, as he successfully secured his seat and continued to do so until he stepped down in 2013.

Flip-Flop Congressman

However, changing political allegiance ahead of an election doesn't always yield such a positive result. Democrat Parker Griffith switched parties in December 2009, but ultimately failed to be re-elected to the House, losing the Republican primary to an opponent. He then returned to the Democratic Party in 2014, but again changing didn't help him win the necessary number of votes, this time to become governor of Alabama.

Mass Democratic Exodus

Although Democrats have historically switched to become Republican far more often than vice versa, they set a new record in 1995, when five Democratic congressmen defected to the GOP in a single year. This was preceded by the Republicans securing convincing victories in the elections and acquiring majorities in both chambers of Congress – although the Democratic defectors themselves listed various reasons for their sudden departure. Some were discouraged by Democratic Party policies; others were tempted by the GOP itself with lucrative positions.

But the switch wasn't successful for all of them. While Nathan Deal, Billy Tauzin, and Michael Parker were easily re-elected for a new term, both Greg Laughlin and Jimmy Hayes lost in the Republican Party primaries.

Harsh Welcome

Michael Forbes was one of the few Republicans to ever switch to the Democratic Party, accusing his former GOP colleagues of being "deaf" to the needs of average Americans – although he probably regretted his decision in the very first primary. He was poorly received by Democrats, with the exception of then President Bill Clinton, due to maintaining his stance against abortion, and as a result, the Suffolk County Democratic Party decided to challenge his new House bid by recruiting and sponsoring his opponent, Regina Seltzer.

Apparently the Republicans were not too happy about Forbes' departure in 1999 either. In fact, they were so unhappy that they funnelled $250,000 to boost Seltzer, who easily beat Forbes, although ultimately lost the race to a Republican candidate in 2000.

Amash Against Both Isles

Justin Amash is so far the only US lawmaker to have abandoned a party and become truly independent and not to later join the opposing party. He left the GOP on 4 July 2019, stating that he was "declaring his independence" from partisan politics on Capitol Hill. He argued that the partisanship of the politics had started overwhelming the US Congress and announced that he would run as independent in the future.

"We are fast approaching the point where Congress exists as little more than a formality to legitimise outcomes dictated by the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader", Amash stated.
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