December 23, 2009
McCain, GOP secretly courting another Dem to switch
Republicans are stepping up their efforts to persuade more House Democrats to switch parties and are zeroing in on a second-term Pennsylvanian who is not ruling out such a move.
Democratic Rep. Chris Carney received a phone call Wednesday from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asking him to consider becoming a Republican, a top GOP official told POLITICO.
A spokesman for Carney declined to say if the congressman was considering such a switch.
“No further comment at this time,” said Carney spokesman Josh Drobnyk, who would only confirm that the call took place.
In a brief interview, McCain declined to offer details about the conversation.
“I just said, ‘Whatever you do, I know that you’ll make the right decision for the country,’” said the Arizonan.
A source familiar with the call said that Republicans thought Carney might be susceptible to McCain’s entreaty because, like the senator, the 50-year-old House member served in the Navy .
McCain’s call to Carney comes one day after freshman Alabama Democrat Parker Griffith announced that he was uncomfortable with his party’s direction and was becoming a Republican.
That House Republicans would deploy their party’s 2008 presidential standard-bearer to reach out to Carney underscores the sense of opportunity the GOP feels with the Griffith switch, along with polls showing voters turning sharply away from Democratic policies. So party officials are moving quickly to capitalize on the trend with other Democrats from conservative-leaning districts in hopes of creating a snowball effect.
“Politics is a momentum sport,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
A senior Republican said that the Senate GOP is expected to receive a list of party-switching targets.
But persuading colleagues to change sides is a delicate matter, often handled at the member level and with great discretion. The hope is to bag the quarry without being seen or heard trying to do so.
A top House Republican aide, wanting to avoid revealing a poaching patrol, downplayed the effort.
“You’ve got to have a willing partner; you don’t just hunt these guys down,” said the Republican. “They have to nudge you first.”
But the aide acknowledged that they had gotten “a nibble” from Carney and were now making the pitch that he’d be better off switching parties than running again as a Democrat in a northeastern Pennsylvania seat that President Obama lost by 9 percentage points last year.
Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, is taking the lead on the effort to persuade his colleague to switch, said a GOP aide.
Carney, who is still a commander in the Navy Reserve, represents a rural swath of northeastern Pennsylvania that was historically represented by Republicans, including such prominent figures as William Scranton and Joseph McDade.
But Carney knocked off scandal-plagued former GOP Rep. Don Sherwood in 2006 to capture the seat in the same year Democrats retook the congressional majority.
Before Carney’s upset win, Republicans held the seat for nearly four decades.
Carney hadn’t drawn a leading GOP opponent so far this year, but Republicans had been recruiting former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino to run for the seat. Marino met with the National Republican Congressional Committee last week, according to a GOP source.
Another leading candidate, state Rep. Mike Peifer, abruptly decided not to run against Carney this week.
“My family comes first,” Peifer told the Pike County Press. “We decided together that I would not run.”
Peifer did not respond to a phone call from POLITICO seeking comment.
Despite being a top GOP target and running in a district that McCain easily carried, Carney comfortably won reelection last year, taking 56 percent of the vote.
And in his two terms in the House, Carney, a Blue Dog, has been a fairly reliable leadership vote. He supported the stimulus earlier this year and recently provided a key vote on health care and financial regulation legislation — all bills that some of his conservative Democratic colleagues opposed.
Not all conservative Democrats are up for grabs, though.
With Griffith’s announcement Tuesday, eyes immediately turned to his home state freshman counterpart, Rep. Bobby Bright.
But Bright told the House Democratic leadership Tuesday night that he planned to stay in the party, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Similarly, Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), another freshman Blue Dog who would be a prime target, indicated in a statement to POLITICO that he won’t switch.
“I will remain as independent as Idaho, I will not be switching parties, and I will win in November,” Minnick said in the statement.