WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Parker Griffith switched parties on Tuesday and became a Republican, a move that underscored challenges his former Democratic colleagues face in next year's election.
"I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country," Griffith said in announcing his defection in his Alabama district.
The first-term lawmaker had a conservative voting record, bucking Democrats on a number of measures, including ones to revamp the U.S. healthcare system and stem global warming.
With Griffith's defection, Democrats now hold the House of Representatives, 257-178, and are expected to lose more seats in next year's election.
The party in power traditionally loses seats in the first election after a new president takes office.
At this point, congressional analysts figure Democrats will lose upward of two dozen seats, but retain control of the House.
Up until Griffith's decision to switch, Republicans were expected to target Griffith in next November's election. His district is largely conservative.
But after he bolted, they embraced him.
"Congressman Griffith has added his voice to the growing chorus of Americans who have had it with Democrats' wrong-headed policies," House Republican leader John Boehner said.
A Democratic leadership aide said the defection was not a major surprise since Griffith routinely voted with Republicans, but added, "if he thinks his chances of re-election get any easier, he is highly mistaken."
Increasingly influential conservative activists have already talked about putting up a Republican challenger of their own, the aide noted.
"Then there is the question of how the Republican Party plans to embrace a man it has spent the last two years vigorously attacking," the aide said.
A Republican aide said Boehner reached out to Griffith weeks ago after Griffith first indicated he might switch.
But no deals were struck between House Republican leaders and Griffith, other than assurances that he was welcome in the House Republican Conference, the aide said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pointed out that Griffith, unlike most party switchers over the years, went from the majority to minority party in Congress.
"That's growing evidence of the unacceptability of this national Democratic agenda in much of red state (conservative) America," McConnell said.
(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Arshad Mohammed and Vicki Allen)