Politicians switching parties to run for office in Florida is nothing new -- generally, they survive the backlash -- and a Jacksonville Republican is the latest political hopeful counting on that survival. The success stories include former Gov. Bob Martinez, who was elected mayor of Tampa as a Democrat before heading to Tallahassee in 1986 as a Republican. Jim Smith was a Democrat when he was elected attorney general, but after losing the 1986 Democratic primary, he joined the GOP and served as secretary of state. Florida State Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady served in the Florida House as a Democrat before winning a U.S. House seat in 1992 as a Republican.
Of course, there are exception. Party switches haven’t helped some high-profile politicians in Florida like former Gov. Charlie Crist, who won three state Cabinet offices as a Republican, running for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation in 2010 before running for governor as a Democrat last year. Back in 2000, Bill Posey won a Republican state Senate primary by noting foe Harry Goode had been a Democrat for most of his political life. A year later, Howard Futch beat Glenn Byran in a special election by noting his party switching.
Businessman Donnie Horner is running for the Republican nomination to replace term-limited Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. Party switching could hurt him.
Horner’s website claims he will stand for conservative principles. “I will be a strong advocate for conservative principles that will continue to make Florida the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Horner noted on his campaign site.
But Horner may have a tough time convincing Republican voters he’s a conservative. According to the Duval County supervisor of elections, Horner was a registered Democrat until April. In recent years his Twitter account has praised Democrats and slammed Republicans.
His Twitter comments include calling for a “more prominent Democrat” to challenge U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., in 2010 and indicating he could be up for the job; voting for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in 2012; backing U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., in the 2010 Senate race; and claiming Republican Marco Rubio should not be elected in 2010.
Horner explained his recent party switch to Sunshine State News, insisting it wasn’t an epiphany.
“It’s simple: I would not have been true to myself if I wanted to run as a Democrat,” Horner told Sunshine State News. “I haven’t shied away from this issue.”
Horner said his switch was genuine and his positions haven’t changed.
“As a Democrat, I’ve always been a conservative on social and business issues,” Horner told Sunshine State News. “My values coincide with the Republican Party.”
But Florida Radio Network political commentator Ed Lynch, who ran for Congress as a Republican, said these were the normal tactics of a party switcher.
“This is the typical MO of candidates who know they can’t win as a Democrat, so they claim they are conservatives; they switch, and run as a Republican,” Lynch told SSN.
Prominent Tallahassee figure Barney Bishop, former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party who served as president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), said it was natural for voters to wonder what motivated the party switching.
“When people switch parties, you wonder what their political motivation is,” Bishop said.
One prominent Republican who holds elected office in Jacksonville offered some perspective on Horner.
“Donnie is a nice guy, but he wouldn’t be the conservative Republican voters in North Florida would want want to see in Tallahassee,” the Jacksonville Republican said.
Ed Dean, a senior editor with SSN whose talk-show can be heard on radio stations across Florida, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @eddeanradio.