Cramer says he's staying a Democrat

Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer (Ala.) yesterday dismissed talk in Republican circles that he was being pressed to switch parties.

Cramer guessed that the speculation was born from an ongoing joke between himself and home-state Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) about changing parties. Shelby occasionally prods the eighth-term congressman in jest about crossing the aisle, Cramer said, and the senior senator from Alabama has no problem issuing those taunts in the presence of lobbyists and other lawmakers.

Over the years, Republicans have approached Cramer about switching — both sides acknowledge it — but he says he has no interest in being a Republican.

“They have made it clear to me that the door is open,” Cramer said, but he added that interest has been low since the November elections.

Every two years, House Republicans reach out to a select group of Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts, and the past cycle two members, Reps. Ralph Hall (Texas) and Rodney Alexander (La.), jumped across the aisle to the Republican side.

Cramer represents a predominantly Republican district in northern Alabama and often votes with GOP leadership. This term, for example, he has voted to pass bankruptcy reform, a permanent repeal of the estate tax, class-action reform and the energy bill. He also works closely with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) because Cramer’s district includes a NASA facility outside Huntsville.

“Bud votes with Republicans all the time,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), although he said Cramer’s party affiliation is rarely discussed during meetings with the state delegation. Aderholt and Cramer both said that each member of the Alabama House delegation — which comprises five Republicans and two Democrats — works closely with the others and party affiliation is a secondary topic.

Cramer has been included in the initial target list for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in recent cycles, but he has easily beaten his past three Republican opponents. And Aderholt said no Republican member of the Alabama delegation has offered much support to Cramer’s challenger during any of his own five terms in Washington.

Predicting party switchers is a popular pastime within the rumor-hungry Beltway, but the phenomenon has declined steeply since the early years of the so-called Republican Revolution in the mid-1990s.

However slim the chances, former and current Hill aides suggested that Cramer will remain on the GOP short list of possible candidates and Republican members will continue reaching across the aisle for more than just votes on the floor.