Democrats, Party Switchers and the Ghost of Ed Jany

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 7, 2015 · 7:53 AM EDT

Former Republican state Sen. Tom O’Halleran announced Tuesday he was running as a Democrat in Arizona’s 1st District. It’s not the first time party strategists have crossed the aisle to recruit, and O’Halleran isn’t even the only party-switcher running this cycle.

Last cycle, Democratic strategists cleared the primary for former Republican Ed Jany in Florida’s 13th District in one of the most ill-conceived ideas in recent electoral history. Democrats knew Jany’s party switch was too recent for him to appear on the ballot with his new party, thanks to the so-called “Charlie Crist rule,” which says a candidate must be registered with a party a year before filing for office from that same party. But they failed to account for Jany’s candidacy collapsing under the weight of resume questions soon after the filing deadline. Consequently, Democrats didn’t have a candidate against GOP Rep. David Jolly last fall and punted a competitive seat to Republicans.

Coincidentally, Crist may run for the 13th District this cycle, if the state Legislature redraws the seat to include his Pinellas County home. Crist is the former Republican governor who was pushed out of the 2010 GOP Senate primary by Marco Rubio’s ascent and went on to lose an independent bid for the seat. In 2014, Crist lost the gubernatorial race as a Democrat to incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

Jolly is leaving the 13th District behind to run for Rubio’s open Senate seat. Crist would start the House race as the favorite, but we are waiting to change our rating until a new map is in place.

About 1,000 miles north, former Republican Mike Parrish is running as a Democrat in Pennsylvania’s 6th District. Parrish ran briefly for the seat in 2014, but dropped out of the race before the Democratic primary when it became clear previous two-time nominee Manan Trivedi had a significant advantage.

This cycle, Parrish is running again and Trivedi is not. Freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Costello won’t be easy to defeat, but this is the type of district Democrats need to win to get back to the House majority. We rate the race as Republican Favored.

Up to this point, it looks like Parrish and O’Halleran might each need to win a primary in their respective districts before moving to competitive general elections.

O’Halleran lost re-election to the state Senate in 2008 in the Republican primary. In 2014, he ran as an independent and narrowly lost to a GOP incumbent, 51-48 percent, without a Democratic candidate on the ballot. O’Halleran is running this cycle for Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s expansive 1st District of Arizona because she is challenging GOP Sen. John McCain. Democratic state Sen. Barbara McGuire is exploring a run as well. We rate the race as a Pure Toss-Up.

While party strategists tend to get excited about party switchers because of their potential crossover appeal, there is limited data to evaluate whether it is a worthwhile endeavor. Of course there are members, such as Rodney Alexander and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and others, who switched parties while in office and had future electoral success. But switching offices before an initial run appears to be more rare.

Democrats tried repeatedly to convince former GOP Rep. Joe Schwarz to challenge GOP Rep. Tim Walberg in Michigan’s 7th District after Walberg defeated the moderate Schwarz in the 2006 Republican primary. But Schwarz has yet to take the plunge.

A little less than two years ago, West Virginia’s Evan H. Jenkins was a Democratic state senator, but he switched parties and defeated long-time Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall II as a Republican in 2014. Brad Ashford switched to the Democratic Party about six months before he decided to challenge GOP Rep. Lee Terry in Nebraska’s 2nd District. Ashford won the race, 49 percent to 46 percent, in 2014.

It’s still early to know whether Crist, Parrish and O’Halleran will follow in Jenkins’ successful footsteps. But Democrats need to win all three seats to put a dent in the Republican majority in the House.