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Inside Politics

Democratic representative switches party

Louisiana conservative to run as Republican

Rodney Alexander represents a district in northeastern Louisiana.
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
America Votes 2004
Rodney Alexander

(CNN) -- Rep. Rodney Alexander, a conservative Louisiana Democrat who won an unexpected victory in a GOP-leaning district two years ago, decided Friday to seek re-election as a Republican.

On the last day of qualifying for the fall ballot in Louisiana, Alexander filed for re-election as a Republican, after filing earlier in the week as a Democrat.

The timing of the switch prevents state Democrats from fielding a big-name candidate to take on the newly minted GOP congressman, who just five months ago had announced he would remain a Democrat.

"I've seen some cowardly things in my career, but this is the worst," said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in a statement. "Nobody likes a coward, least of all the voters of Louisiana."

Feelings were different on the other side of the aisle. President Bush called Alexander on Friday evening "to welcome him to the Republican Party and wish him well," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

In Louisiana, all congressional candidates, regardless of party, run against each other in a single race in November. If no one wins a majority, then the two top vote-getters face each other in a runoff. Alexander will have two competitors for the seat -- former Republican state legislator Jock Scott and Zelma Blakes, a little-known Democrat.

Alexander, 57, represents the state's Fifth District, which includes northeastern Louisiana and parts of two parishes west of Baton Rouge. In 2000, he won the runoff for the seat by less than 1,000 votes over Republican Lee Fletcher, putting what had been thought to be a traditional GOP seat into Democratic hands.

Given that the district went for President Bush by 17 percentage points in 2000, Republicans had been eyeing Alexander's seat as a possible takeover target -- but they had also been wooing him to cross the political aisle.

Alexander's congressional biography describes him as "pro-life [and] pro-Second Amendment" and notes that he is an active member of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats. He supported both the Iraq war and President Bush's tax cuts.

Talk of party switching crescendoed in February after Alexander told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he preferred Bush to his own party's presidential nominees. But after intense lobbying from state Democrats, he announced in March that he would not change parties.

The switch gives Republicans 229 U.S. House members, compared with 205 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent. In order to wrest control of the House this fall, Democrats will now need a net gain of 12 seats.

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