In Tampa Bay area, 2,000 Republicans switch parties in days after Capitol riot

More than half the Republican switchers changed to no party affiliation, while about 300 became Democrats. The rest went to minor parties.
Rioting supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. In the Tampa Bay area, more than 2,000 registered Republicans have switched parties in the ensuing days.
Rioting supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. In the Tampa Bay area, more than 2,000 registered Republicans have switched parties in the ensuing days. [ JOSE LUIS MAGANA | AP ]
Published Jan. 15, 2021|Updated Jan. 15, 2021

Since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, what appears to be an unusual number of Republicans in the three biggest Tampa Bay area counties have switched parties, mostly to no party affiliation, but some becoming Democrats.

News reports in Florida and nationwide have noted a similar phenomenon elsewhere, with voters citing anger at President Donald Trump and his supporters.

But at least a few Republicans may also be switching out of anger that party leaders haven’t backed Trump strongly enough, including one Hillsborough County Republican Party official.

According to figures from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas elections supervisors, 2,025 Republicans in the three counties switched parties from Jan. 6 through Thursday.

That compares to 306 Democrats who switched parties in the same period, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in the counties.

More than half the Republican switchers, 1,171, changed to no party affiliation, while 298 became Democrats and the rest went to minor parties – mostly the Independent Party, sometimes confused with “independent” status.

The 2,025 GOP party switchers are less than half of 1 percent of the total 705,818 Republicans registered in the three counties.

But the number switching is far higher than in the same time period following the 2016 presidential election.

In Pinellas, for example, only 20 Republicans and 22 Democrats switched Jan. 6-13, 2017, compared to 812 Republicans and 108 Democrats this year.

In Hillsborough,18 Republicans and 27 Democrats switched after the 2016 election, compared to 880 Republicans and 150 Democrats this year.

In a long Facebook posting this week, Brooke Emery, the Hillsborough County GOP’s “Stratcomms Director,” meaning “strategic communications,” announced she is leaving the party. Emery is a close ally of controversial party Chairman and ardent Trump supporter Jim Waurishuk.

In the posting, since deleted from the party’s Facebook page, Emery praised Waurishuk but cited “a long line of betrayals of the duly elected President Trump” by other party leaders and suggested formation of a new “Patriot Party.”

Related: A St. Petersburg man bet $100 on a Trump win. Now he’s being sued for not paying up.

In comments, a few local Republicans agreed and also vowed to leave, while others said that would be counterproductive.

The counties’ elections supervisors — Hillsborough’s Craig Latimer, a Democrat, and Republicans Brian Corley in Pasco and Julie Marcus in Pinellas — declined to comment on the party-switching numbers, all citing a desire to avoid political stances.

Townsend declines party vice chair nomination

After losing the election for state Democratic Party chairman last week, Hillsborough County Chair Ione Townsend declined a nomination for vice chairman, saying the party needed more diversity in its leadership.

Townsend is White; the other two vice chair nominees, Cynthia Moore Chestnut and winner Judy Mount, are black.

Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend
Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend [ Photo courtesy of Ione Townsend ]

Townsend didn’t come as close as she expected in the chairman’s race, receiving 30 percent to winner Manny Diaz’s 54 percent. But she said it isn’t true that she had no chance against Diaz.

Shortly before the election, Townsend said, one of her large-county supporters switched to Diaz. With the party’s weighted voting system, she said, that one change swung enough votes to give Diaz a first-round win. Otherwise, she said, she would have had enough votes to force a runoff.

Townsend ran as a progressive, while Diaz was backed by more establishment Democrats. She congratulated Diaz and said she and the Hillsborough county party are committed to supporting him.

Hillsborough GOP sticks with antifa myth

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, the Hillsborough County Republican Party and Chairman Jim Waurishuk stuck to the false narrative that the incident was perpetrated by leftists and antifa and blamed Democrats.

Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]

“All pre-planned, orchestrated and executed by Democrats to implicate and blame President Trump and Trump patriots,” said one Waurishuk Facebook post.

“Pelosi and the House Democrats invited busloads of Antifa to riot,” said another.

In fact, Florida Republicans, including state GOP Chairman Joe Gruters, had helped organize busloads of demonstrators for the rally that preceded the Capitol riot.

The Hillsborough GOP Facebook page reposted an item saying Antifa planned to dress as Trump supporters, and added the comment, “As always, a lot of gaslighting against Trump supporters. Don’t believe everything you read or hear on #FakeNewsMedia.”

Contact William March at