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State Lawmakers Bolt Democratic Party After Election Day

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard gestures as he welcomes four Democrats to the Republican Party during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala., Nov. 22. (AP Photo)

Adding insult to injury for their party, at least 13 Democratic state lawmakers have joined the Republican ranks since Election Day -- deepening GOP gains and in one case handing the party the state House majority. 

Democrats in five states have switched parties since Nov. 2, citing concerns about the economy and the political leanings of their constituents. The defections are a troubling sign for state Democratic operations clinging to life following their election drubbing. Though Republicans' congressional gains drew more attention, the party picked up more than 675 seats at the state level last month and in some cases took over entire state capitals. 

The gains far surpassed those made in 1994, but the sudden bout of party-switching gives the GOP a chance to build their majorities further without anybody casting a single ballot. 

"It creates momentum, gives us better opportunities to recruit, better candidates in the next cycle," said Frank Donatelli, chairman of Republican recruitment arm GOPAC, welcoming the newcomers and urging other wavering Democrats to follow suit. 

Most of the switches so far have occurred in the south. They include four Alabama House members, five Georgia House members, one Georgia senator, and one Louisiana House member. 

Alabama Rep. Alan Boothe, who has been a Democrat since he was first elected in 1998, said he aligned with the party for "historical reasons" but after this election decided to heed the call of his constituents for change. He announced his decision to join the GOP last week. 

"It was not just an overnight thing," he told FoxNews.com. "It was a decision that took a lot of thought." 

Boothe said the Republicans' economic message appealed to him and that he didn't want to be working against the incoming Republican governor. 

Tim Storey, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the crossovers are not "uncommon" in the wake of a wave election like the one last month. He said the changes in the south reflect a party realignment that's been happening for decades. 

"They're conservatives who just feel more comfortable ideologically with Republicans," he said, adding, "I wouldn't discount there's probably some opportunism involved, either." 

Republicans claimed at least 19 chambers on Election Day, and the subsequent defections for the most part helped them build up those majorities. The decision of Rep. Walker Hines in Louisiana, though, gave the party a majority in that state's House of Representatives. The move gave Republicans 51 seats to the Democrats' 50, though Republicans already technically had control of the chamber because four independents caucused with them. 

Democrats were clearly stung by the announcements. In Alabama, the party put out a lengthy statement in response to the loss of four of its members last week. 

"The gentlemen changing parties today had just won re-election as Democrats, not Republicans; and they did so with the money, time, votes and volunteerism of thousands of Democrats from across the state," the statement said. "The Republican members of the legislature have put on a full-court press to push all white Democrats to change parties after the election." 

The party urged the four members to back up their decision by resigning and then seeking reelection as Republicans in a special election. 

"Each of them should also immediately refund the monies given to them by their Democratic Caucus," the Democratic Party said. 

Donatelli acknowledged that survival instinct might have played a factor but said the lawmakers mostly were drawn to Republicans' "economic philosophy." 

Though not as high-profile as the GOP's congressional victories, the state wins take on outsized importance ahead of the 2012 cycle. State governments are responsible for redrawing congressional districts in accordance with the results of the 2010 Census, and the GOP now has a stronger voice in that process.