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Saslaw Wants GOP Senators to Switch Parties

Tim Craig

Senate Majority Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), part jokingly but mostly serious, is urging his moderate Republican colleagues to leave the GOP and join the majority party in the Senate.

Speaking to reporters today, Saslaw made the public offer because he thinks the Republican Party has drifted to far to the right for some moderates. He singled out two moderate GOP senators - Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment (James City) and Kenneth W. Stolle (Virginia Beach) - as potential party switchers.

"They can leave that caucus and come over to our caucus," Saslaw said. "We don't have the rigid vote with your base 100 percent of the time or your fired rule."

Stolle dismissed the idea, saying there is almost no chance he or another Republican could be talked into changing parties.

"My Republican credentials are impeccable," Stolle said.

If a Republican switched, Saslaw said they would be guaranteed their seniority, so long as they do not try to dislodge a sitting Democratic committee chairman. Saslaw, who oversees a paper thin 21 to 19 Democratic majority , added all party switchers would be greeted with a "hand shake and a hug."

But Stolle said Senate rules say a party switcher automatically loses their seniority and committee assignments.

Given the recent public unity within the GOP Senate caucus, including all 19 coming out against Saslaw's proposal to increase the gas tax, it appears doubtful that Democrats will be able to increase their majority anytime soon.

"I don't think we have ever been more united than we are now," Stolle said.

Even if a moderate Republican was considering switching parties, they probably shouldn't immediately buy into Saslaw's claim that Democrats are given more freedom by the party's base to vote their vote conscious.

Last year, former Democratic state senator Benjamin J. Lambert III was defeated in the primary after he endorsed Republican George Allen in the 2006 U.S. Senate race.

Stolle said Saslaw's musings about party switches demonstrate the majority leader is feeling the strain of having a tenuous grip on power.

"It is hard to run Senate even with 23 votes; it is nearly impossible to run the Senate with 21 votes," Stolle said.

By Tim Craig  |  June 26, 2008; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2009 , General Assembly 2008 , Tim Craig  
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