Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ex Cineribus Non Resurgit - Parker Griffith Tries Again in Alabama’s Fifth District

Friday the 13th has long been noted for scary and unusual happenings. I am not sure how scary they all were, but several eleventh-hour filings (on Friday the 13th) to run in this March’s primaries were certainly surprises. I have already noted some of those in the Sixth Congressional District GOP primary. In this post, I want to gaze north to the Tennessee Valley at the Alabama Fifth District.

Two years ago, party switcher Parker Griffith lost the Republican primary in this district to perennial candidate, then-Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, by a resounding 50.8%-33.4% margin, with Herman Cain wannabe Les Phillip getting 15.8%. As I have noted frequently happens to party switchers.

With that kind of walloping, one would have presumed Dr. Griffith would have headed off to Florida, or at least to K Street, and stayed there. But on Friday, he caught everyone off guard by filing to run for his former seat in the GOP primary. Against the same incumbent who beat him by 17.4% less than two years ago.

I am not sure what the overall statistics are for defeated members of Congress attempting to regain their seats, but at least one early scholar of the scenario noted that, “One would tend to assume that a candidate, defeated for Congress in a regular election, would under ordinary circumstances be subject to similar results in running against the same opponent two years later,” and found that the data bore out his supposition.

The specific facts on the ground here do not indicate that we should expect Griffith to come any closer in this primary than he did in the 2010 round. Of course, Brooks has had the last year to work the GOP rubber chicken circuit as an incumbent Congressman. At least in Madison County, he has been known as a Republican activist for nearly 30 years, a fact which helped him defeat Griffith in 2010.

Geography also works against Griffith. In the 2011 GOP-run reapportionment, the Fifth District was stripped of both predominantly Democratic Colbert County, and parts of Lawrence, in an effort to protect Brooks from a Democratic challenge this year. In the 2010 primary, Colbert gave Griffith a 1,947-673 margin over Brooks. Griffith’s 66.5% in Colbert was his best showing in any county in the district. The removal of Colbert was compensated by some population gain in Madison County, and by the addition of that part of Morgan County not previously in the district. In the part of Morgan County that was in the Fifth in 2010, Brooks beat Griffith by a 48.2%-36.6% margin. Because the overall geographic pattern was that Brooks did better in the central part of the district, it’s probably safe to presume the newly-added part of Morgan County would have voted in a similar fashion - and will this time.

Griffith is a retired physician, and has substantial business interests. He has the ability to self-finance to a fair extent, if he’s willing to write the large checks. He reported giving his own campaign $180,000.00, and personally guaranteeing loans to his campaign of an additional $250,000.00, in the 2010 primary. He’s going to need to write himself a much larger check than that this time. His current campaign reports the princely sum of $316.00 cash on hand. No, I didn’t mess up the decimal point. In 2010, Griffith’s pre-primary report showed total contributions of $2,856,969.83, and would need to spend a very large fraction of that this time to challenge an incumbent. But that total was raised not only by an incumbent Congressman, but an incumbent who was aided by a major fundraising visit from now-Speaker John Boehner. I am not looking for either that visit, or that total from contributors, to happen again. Brooks, by comparison, reported $339,965.76 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter in 2011, and presumably was dialing for dollars in the fourth quarter, and is even more diligently doing so now.

Unlike the ethically-challenged Spencer Bachus in the Sixth District, Brooks has done nothing in his half-term in the House that would hurt him politically - at least not in a Republican primary. True, he stated that “I will do anything short of shooting” illegal immigrants; until HB-56 passed, that was Alabama’s best-noted echo of Bull Connor in 2011. He also was forced to withdraw from the record, after a point of order was made, his remark referring to “socialist” Democratic members of Congress. Brooks’s political style has always consisted of sloganeering and bomb throwing. While these remarks are embarrassing to Alabama, are definitely counterproductive to business recruitment, and certainly don’t accumulate Huntsville any brownie points for future budget fights over Redstone Arsenal operations, they are the exact sort of thing the dim lights, bigoted souls, and fossilized minds of the Republican primary electorate love to hear. Don’t look for them to create any problems for Brooks in the primary.

A small corrective is needed for the media-anointed “experts” who have tried to talk up Griffith’s chances a notch, on the rationale that he will not be subjected to the imaginary tidal wave of angry Democrats who supposedly crossed over to vote for Brooks in 2010. While someone may have anecdotal evidence of a few incensed individuals who did so, it simply didn’t happen in statistically significant numbers. There was a quite active Democratic primary that day throughout the district for both the gubernatorial nomination, and the Congressional nomination to oppose Brooks. Most counties in the district also had local Democratic primaries for courthouse offices. None of these Democratic primaries were noted for depressed turnout. As a final nail in this idea’s coffin, Griffith actually did his best in the three most Democratic counties in the district in the 2010 primary; Lauderdale (60.9%), Colbert (66.5%) and Jackson (55.9%).

In my previous post on the Sixth District, I noted that the Democratic Party would benefit from the coming knife fight in the GOP primary in that district. This race promises to add to that effect in the northernmost counties of Alabama. These two guys really, really don’t like each other, and both will probably have enough money to go negative. Whatever remote chance Griffith has depends on it. How Griffith can effectively go negative is an interesting question. You can’t outflank Brooks on the right. Griffith’s best strategy will be to argue that you can be firmly conservative without rendering yourself an ineffective member of Congress by keeping your flamethrower on the highest setting all the time. This line of attack will hurt not only Brooks, but also other Tea Party pods in the Huntsville/Decatur and Florence media markets. Griffith, for his part, remains popular with a certain part of Huntsville’s elite Twickenham community, normally a reliable GOP bloc. Attacking him may cost Brooks some support there.

Among other early Christian writers, Saint Isidore of Seville wrote of the mythical Phoenix in his Etymologiarum sive Originum, that “de cineribus suis resurgit.” (L. XII, 22). Many of these writers likened the Phoenix, rising from its own ashes, to the resurrected Christ. While Griffith definitely crashed and burned in 2010, don’t look for him to rise from his own ashes this year. Who knows, maybe the good Doctor’s expectations will be reasonable enough this time, that he can make it to his own election watch party to deliver a concession speech.


  1. The choice for 5th district republicans...Crazy Mo or Flipper Griffin.