Huntsville, Ala. (AP) - A freshman House Democrat from Alabama announced Tuesday he is switching to the GOP, another blow to Democrats facing a potentially tough midterm election.
Parker Griffith announced his defection at a press conference in his district, a region of northern Alabama that includes Huntsville and Decatur.
"I believe our nation is at a crossroads and I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy, and drives us further and further into debt," Griffith said.
The 67-year-old radiation oncologist was narrowly elected last year in a district that President Barack Obama lost badly to Republican John McCain.
He used his press conference to slam the health care overhaul making its way through Congress. He was one of 39 House Democrats to vote against a version of the bill that narrowly passed.
"I want to make it perfectly clear that this bill is bad for our doctors," he said. "It's bad for our patients. It's bad for the young men and women who are considering going into the health care field."
Griffith had accumulated one of the most conservative voting records of any House Democrat. He was one of seven Democrats to oppose Obama's economic stimulus measure early this year and also voted against an anti-global warming bill pushed strongly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Democrats will hold 257 House seats to the GOP's 178 after Griffith's switch.
Several veteran House moderates have announced their retirements next year, giving Republicans hopes of picking up a significant number of seats in the November elections.
Jim Spearman, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said the switch "shouldn't come as a surprise" with the way Griffith voted.
"We will be working strongly to put a Democrat in there," Spearman said.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington, Frederic J. Frommer, Sam Hananel and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.
A freshman House Democrat from Alabama announced Tuesday he is switching to the GOP, another blow to Democrats facing a potentially tough midterm election.