Until last summer, DuPage County Republicans pointed to Moon Khan as the prime example of their party's diversity.
As the first Muslim elected to a partisan office in DuPage, Khan championed conservative issues during his years as a York Township trustee. In August 2012, he even invited to his Lombard home then-Congressman Joe Walsh, fresh from making remarks that America was threatened by a "radical strain" of Islam.
But like the meeting in Khan's backyard that Walsh had with members of the Muslim community, Khan's relationship with the GOP has soured.
The 58-year-old is now running for a District 4 seat on the DuPage County Board as a Democrat.
"I switched parties because of the lack of representation of a large number of people who live in DuPage County," said Khan, who believes there should be more minorities in partisan positions in DuPage.
While Khan's defection to the Democratic Party was unexpected, what he did isn't as rare as it may seem. In fact, he isn't the only candidate to abandon the DuPage Republicans before this election.
Mike Quiroz of West Chicago lost to DuPage Sheriff John Zaruba in the 2010 GOP primary. This fall, he'll run against Zaruba as a Democrat in the general election.
At least 10 suburban politicians have switched parties since the 1990s, including former state Rep. Paul Froehlich, who left the Republican Party for the Democrats in 2007.
"It happens. And it's going to happen again," Addison Township GOP Chairman Patrick Durante said.
Durante described most of the suburban party switchers as "opportunists."
"They desert the party that raised them, nurtured them and trained them in order to go over for better opportunities elsewhere because they're getting nowhere in their own party," Durante said.
Froehlich doesn't see it that way.
"Switching parties was the most difficult decision of my life," Froehlich wrote in an email exchange with the Daily Herald.
Froehlich, who is retired and living in Panama, used to represent a state House district that included parts of Schaumburg, Roselle, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, Elk Grove Village and Bloomingdale.
He said he changed parties because the GOP was moving toward the right, his district was becoming less Republican, and his own views "were evolving like those in my district."
"In short, the GOP became less and less hospitable, while Democrats picked up seats in my area long held by Republicans," Froehlich wrote. "I was part of the changeover in the region from red to blue."
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said his county "was trending blue" in 2008 when he decided to leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican.
Curran said politicians who switch parties end up making "a lot of enemies" and are rarely successful in elections. "It's not something I would advise anyone to do," he said.
Curran said he changed "as a matter of conscience." His announcement in December 2008 came less than a week after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges.
"I didn't like the direction the Democratic Party was going in," he said. "If it (switching parties) meant political death, so be it. My own personal discernment was to move on."
Even though the parties they left ran candidates against them in the general elections after their defections, both Curran and Froehlich kept their seats.
"My numbers went up," Curran said. "I did better in 2010 despite being told by Democratic Party bosses that I would never be re-elected."
One party switcher turned his conversion into a more-than-20-year career as a DuPage County Board member and forest preserve commissioner.
Roger Kotecki ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 1988 before winning a county board seat as a Republican in 1990 using "almost the identical platform," he recalled.
He never lost another election and retired as a forest preserve commissioner in 2012.
Kotecki said he would have had to run for something like school board or library trustee if he hadn't joined the Republican Party.
"I might have had to wait the almost 20 years until the (Barack) Obama campaign gave hope to a number of Democrats," he said.
Whether Khan experiences the same success as Kotecki in DuPage remains to be seen.
DuPage Republicans in 2005 recruited Khan to run for York Township trustee. He served in that elected position for about seven years. He also was a Republican precinct committeeman for roughly a decade.
But Khan said he became disenchanted with the local GOP after he repeatedly was passed over for appointments to committees and leadership positions.
"I was a kind of poster boy of diversity in the Republican Party," Khan said. "But at the same time, nothing came for me."
Bob Peickert, DuPage Democratic Party chairman, said he and other local party leaders have welcomed Khan and Quiroz with open arms.
But Khan is being challenged in the March 18 Democratic primary by Jeremy Custer. The 25-year-old Glendale Heights resident insists that he -- not Khan -- should be the Democratic nominee against the Republicans in the general election.
Custer, a political strategist, says Democratic voters might question the validity of Khan's conversion.
"In my professional opinion from working on campaigns, I think a question that most Democratic primary voters will ask themselves this election is: 'What made him (Khan) change his mind to switch parties, and will he do it again?'" Custer said. "This is a question people asked of many elected officials that switch parties, and I am sure there will be no exception here."
Curran said voters don't like opportunists. But politicians who can show their change to the opposite party is authentic, "have the opportunity to resonate with people," he said.
Kotecki said party switchers aren't opportunists if they're seeking election to an office where they don't have to betray their ideals.
"I didn't have to give up my personal beliefs to run for that office (county board)," Kotecki said.
Meanwhile, Froehlich said officials who convert are likely to become "a more staunch party member than most" to prove themselves.
"Politics is a game of addition," he said. "So converts should be encouraged and welcomed not subjected to inquisitions."