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Tilting at Windmills

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April 28, 2009

SPECTER'S STUNNING SWITCH.... Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, facing a primary challenge next year he's almost certain to lose, will switch parties today and become a Democrat. Seriously.

From a press statement issued by the senator's office about 25 minutes ago:

"I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans. [...]

"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary."

Specter will become the 59th member of the Senate Democratic caucus, which will become 60 once Norm Coleman gives up in Minnesota.

For Specter's re-election hopes, this makes quite a bit of sense. He was going to lose to Pat Toomey in a GOP primary, and the Republican base in Pennsylvania has grown to actively detest him. Unlike Joe Lieberman's route in Connecticut, Specter would not have been able to run as an independent after losing the primary. The easiest way for Specter to keep his job is to take the walk across the aisle.

It's worth noting, though, that Specter has, in recent weeks, tried to move sharply to the right -- he even voted for a five-year federal spending freeze earlier this month -- obviously to try to curry favor with the party's base. That had no apparent effect, which no doubt forced Specter to give the Democratic Party another look.

The strategy is not without risks, however. There are already some high-profile, life-long Democrats who've been gearing up for next year's Senate race, and there's no reason to think they'll quietly go away simply because of Specter's switch.

And then, of course, there's the national scene. Democrats are poised to have a 60-seat majority, though Specter emphasized in his statement, "Unlike Senator Jeffords' switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture."

It's an important point. In fact, Dems like Ben Nelson aren't automatic votes for the party, either. It's tempting to think otherwise, but Specter's switch will not mean that the majority will be able to necessarily block all efforts at Republican obstructionism.

But Specter's vote just got considerably more reliable than it was, say, yesterday.

It's a huge development, and further evidence of a shrinking Republican Party.

Update: Here's Specter's full statement, and Chris Cillizza had a good item.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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Comments

I wonder if Specter received assurances from other PA Dems not to run against him in the primary.

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on April 28, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, looks like the GOP strategy of consolidating a narrow but "pure" right-wing base is already working. For Democrats.

Posted by: Jon on April 28, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Political welfare is alive and well.

Posted by: citizen_pain on April 28, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm stunned. I had thought he would, but when he went to the mat on EFCA I thought he was going to be an ornery bastard about it.

And I thought he would have gone independent before going Democrat.

He's apparently still -- *for now* -- against EFCA, but that might just be so he doesn't look like a craven opportunist ("no, I wasn't opposing EFCA just to win the R primary next year, harrumph....")

And he's making noises about still being iffy on cloture votes. I suspect there will be times he will pull a Scottish verdict or something else just to show he's the guy.

But....Rendell (Gov, PA), and Schumer (who controls the $$ for Dem Senate races) have a lot of leverage. "Dude...we have a few choices...we can throw money and support behind one of the other Dems running....we can stay out.....we can be Arlen Specter fans....we can probably even convince some people to drop out....now, how much help, or trouble, are you going to be to Harry and the President?"

Interesting times. Go, Al Franken!

(And go, you Huskies!)

Posted by: zmulls on April 28, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Spector's a self-serving jerk who will do and say anything to stay in office. Having him as a nominal Democrat is little better than having him as a Republican, as there's no way he can be relied on to vote with the Party on important issues. I really hope there are electable, bona-fide Democrats willing to take him on in the primary.

Posted by: bluestatedon on April 28, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

So, Specter will run as a Democrat, but is still against EFCA and who knows what else, so he'll pretty much be Arlen Specter with a (D) instead of an (R). Yeah, that's, uh, awesome, and totally not politically calculated.

Posted by: Matt on April 28, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

This could give us 60 votes with the seating of Franken, but how do we know Sanctimonious Joe won't take the opportunity to fill the void Specter leaves behind?

Posted by: navamske on April 28, 2009 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

When will Shelby switch back?

Posted by: howie on April 28, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Its true that Specter will be something of a DINO for right now, but certainly no more than Ben Nelson, and with a bit of stroking and coddling, he can probably be pretty useful for as long as he lasts. It kind of sucks for the Democrats who were planning to oppose him, since they would have had a decent chance of prevailing, but on the other hand, it saves the party resources to go after other potential turnovers in 2010, such as New Hampshire, Ohio, and possibly even the Florida seat, though Charlie Crist will be hard to defeat if he runs. It will also leave Democrats in the position of the incumbents for the post-Specter era, which, lets face it, is probably not all that far away.

Posted by: dcsusie on April 28, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

not that they weren't already, but now republicans will do everything they can to prevent Franken from being seated.

Posted by: kp on April 28, 2009 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Spector's a self-serving jerk

No, no, not Phil. Arlen.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 28, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

This development is huge. And yes, it's just a further step toward the GOP making itself as fringe party of Southern extremists.

Posted by: Gregory on April 28, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth: this means that Senators from Pennsylvania will be Democrats for some time to come.

Posted by: MattF on April 28, 2009 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I see this as far more symbolic than functional. I like the symbolism, to be sure, but on the whole, I doubt we'll really gain anything from it.

I hope he faces a robust primary challenge from the left. And loses.

Posted by: doubtful on April 28, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, another asshole totally useless DINO. I'm so excited. ZZZZZZZ.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on April 28, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

I fail to understand the shock and surprise. The guy just sees the writing on the wall. I have to admire the naked cynicism of the following statement (no ellipses between the two sentences as far as I know).
"Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to
become Democrats,” Mr. Specter said in a statement. “I now find my political philosophy more in line
with Democrats than Republicans.”

Posted by: hells littlest angel on April 28, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have been hoping for this and calling for it for months. It is a great move for him. He has really come though for democrats many times, including Clinton's impeachment, where he voted not guilty on both counts. He's a good man and he did exactly what I hoped he would. It is true he won't be a party line guy, but we don't require blind adherence and lockstep lack of morals like republicans. He will be there for us on many issues and once Al is seated, the chronic abuse of the filibuster should stop. It is a great day for America!

Posted by: Patrick on April 28, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm laughing my ass off. I hadn't thought it was possible to underestimate Specter's total self-centeredness, but apparently I did.

No, no, not Phil. Arlen.

Not Phil, too? Not even after shooting that girl?

Posted by: shortstop on April 28, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Specter's an ass, but he was considered a bit of a swing vote for quite a while until the Republicans decided to crack down and declare than any vote that deviated from the party line was unacceptable, no matter what the topic.

What is interesting to me is seeing if any other moderate Republicans will switch now that the ice has been broken. Like it or not, Specter is a pretty big guy and he may have freed a few other moderates to switch as well.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 28, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't be surprised if Specter turns out to be more liberal than most of the Blue Dogs. But Dems need to politely explain to their members that a vote against cloture is a vote against your party's right to represent the majority of Americans. And if that polite talk doesn't work, don't support him in the primary. We don't need to be a party of whores.

Posted by: Danp on April 28, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

He has really come though for democrats many times

Mmmm, not nearly as often as he worked the media long enough to get credit for his bipartisanship before settling back into the lap of the GOP caucus in time for the vote.

He's a good man and he did exactly what I hoped he would.

For Christ's sake, let's not get carried away. Arlen worships at the church of Arlen. All principles are false gods to him. A good man he's not, but we'll have 60, at least nominally and very occasionally practically, and that's an improvement.

Posted by: shortstop on April 28, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Strange to think there might even be more out there who are getting tired of the Old Boys Club across the aisle. Next thing you know they will wheel a big wooden horse up to the gate. We'll have to watch for that old trick.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 28, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Gregg says he will, then he won't; Specter switches parties, but only kind of . . .

This particular set of rats can't even abandon a sinking ship right. They're just running around in the hold hoping a magic mouse hole will open up somewhere.

Posted by: Jon on April 28, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent! Now all we need to do is get rid of a few more RINOs and we'll finally be the purest Republican party ever! Finally the party will be seen as REAL Republicans, and the Real Americans will finally flock to us, thus ensuring the crushing defeat of the evil Libruls.

BWAHAHAHAHA

You Libruls think getting 60 is going to help you? We got Jezus on our side and that's all the votes we need!!!!

Posted by: Wingnuttia on April 28, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

which will become 60 once Norm Coleman gives up in Minnesota. Sorry, there's no way the Republican leadership will let Norm give up. After he loses in the Mn Supreme Court in June he'll appeal to the US SC. The main issue will be whether or not the Mn Supremes will force Gov Pawlenty to sign a certificate of election after their ruling.

Posted by: tomeck on April 28, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I can't look into Specter's heart, but it seems to me that this was not the Republican he joined in the 60's and he was tired of kissin right wing ass to 1) keep his chairmanship and later 2) keep his seat. 'Course the probability of losing to Toomey focused his mind.

But I had the feeling several years ago that he was getting angry at the way he was being treated.

Yea our side! All donations appreciated, however small.

Posted by: Keith G on April 28, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

This is, of course, the same Spector who repeatedly blustered and threatened to oppose the worst of the BushCheney cabal's excesses, but then folded when it came to actual votes. I really hope that he doesn't get the party's support, and if he does, at least one real, consistent progressive stays in the primary and kicks Spector's tail.
And I think I'd feel the same way even if he'd been a more reliable vote against the Bushies. Voters need to make it clear to all of these pols for whom it is they work. The entitlement felt and demonstrated by politicians of both parties, the pundits, and the owners and managers of the corporations that hold the real power in the country is a major reason we're in so much trouble in so many ways and on so many issues. The 95-98% of us who don't own most of the wealth need to remember that we *do* have most of the political power -- but only if we actually exercise it, and do so intelligently & with foresight. (A lot to ask, I realize.)

Posted by: smartalek on April 28, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Spector is desperate. He knows he can't beat Toomey in the GOP primary. The party switch is just the galvanic response in the dead frogs legs.

I'm looking forward to voting for his opponent in the primary. Arlen is long overdue to spend more time with his family, if they'll have him.

He's a serial liar who would only be another Quisling in the ranks.

Posted by: zak822 on April 28, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the real question: Specter is 79 years old. Why the hell is he running for another term? Shouldn't he retire?? Is the U.S. Senate the cushiest job in the world or WHAT???

Posted by: Wrecktum on April 28, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

This is disappointing. The Dems probably could have picked up a utility man in the third round. Olympia Snowe would have been much more reliable on runs up the middle. Specter tends to zig and zag until he runs out of breath, resulting in a lot of fumbles. Frankly, I had Specter rated only the seventh highest rated Republican, and it is not a very strong draft this year.

Posted by: Mel Kiper on April 28, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democrat'IC' primary."

My guess is that soon EFCA will just as easily trip off his tongue.

"Sorry, there's no way the Republican leadership will let Norm give up. After he loses in the Mn Supreme Court in June he'll appeal to the US SC."

I agree with tomeck - It's time for Collins to make her move - or better yet, Snow - or both!

Posted by: tsynnott on April 28, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think this does move Dems closer to a real ability to end filibusters. It changes the calculus for "moderate" Dems who want to hold up a bill. If it's only Democrats that are keeping a Democratic president from carrying out his agenda, I think it becomes a lot harder for a Democratic Senator to be that one jerk - it was a lot easier when you could point to all the Republican jerks and say it wasn't your doing.

Posted by: bobbo on April 28, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

As far as the core substance goes, this is clearly Specter trying to save his own skin. His votes may lean a bit more leftish in the future - especially as he tries to set the table for a Democratic primary run - but overall not a huge difference.

However, the larger optics are good. Polls still show that Obama still gets credit for trying to be bipartisan, albeit with minimal success. This will help define the Republicans as the ideologically rigid Party of No while the Dems can look open and welcoming of a wider perspective.

It's funny to look on righty blogs about this. Commenters there are demanding that more Republican senators jump ship along with Specter.

Posted by: TG Chicago on April 28, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

It's time for Collins to make her move - or better yet, Snow - or both! -tsynnott

No, no, no, NO, NO. NO.

They aren't Democrats, they never will be Democrats, and there is nothing to be gained diluting the spirit and intentions of the Democratic platform by letting more conservadems piss in our pool. We've got more than enough quasidems as is.

I'm all for a big tent, but I'm not for one that strips out money for flu preparedness and waters down effective bills in the name of nonexistent moderation.

If the GOP doesn't want them anymore, fine. Throw them out. But I don't want the GOP's trash.

More AND BETTER. You're overlooking that second part.

Sheesh.

Posted by: doubtful on April 28, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

I've actually had the opportunity to meet the guy a couple of times, and if he's the same person today that he was back in the 80s, then he's crossing the aisle as an "out-of-the-box" way of saying that the GOP of today---the "Party of Limbaugh"---is now the enemy of the Republic. Look to see this change peel another 100,000-or-so voters off the GOPer lists, and into the Dem camp by next year.

Damage them all you can, Arlen; damage them all you can....

Posted by: S. Waybright on April 28, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Now if we could only get Ben Nelson & Evan Bayh to actually become democrats.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on April 28, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think the comments posted above hoping for a strong democratic primary challenge to Specter are important. He needs to be reminded that while his seat is much safer as a Democrat, it's far from automatic.

Posted by: DeminOK on April 28, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Snowe and Collins are far closer to the middle of the Democrats in the Senate than they are to the Republicans.

I think, but I am not sure, that Dick Lugar is the 3rd most liberal Republican in the Senate.

I always thought Lugar was a reasonable person but a VERY conservative person. Now if a VERY conservative Senator is the 3rd most liberal out of 40 then the Republicans are way off the deep end.

I am not holding my breath but Collins and Snowe would feel far more at home with the most conservative 10 Democrats in the Senate than they are with Dick Lugar and whoever is the next most "liberal" Republican Senator.

Posted by: neil wilson on April 28, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

...Collins and Snowe would feel far more at home with the most conservative 10 Democrats in the Senate... -neil wilson

I'm far less concerned about their 'comfort' than I am about effective government. If your worried about where they would be comfortable, might I suggest retired, at home in front of nice fire.

Maybe then we can get some serious people in their place who consider pandemic planning an important thing to spend money on.

Put more plainly. The GOP is a sinking ship. Rats may jump from the sinking ship, but I don't want any more rats in the Democratic party. We need to learn to say thanks, but no thanks.

Posted by: doubtful on April 28, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Snowe's comment (reported in the NYT) was pretty clear, too:

“On the national level of the Republican Party, we haven’t certainly heard warm, encouraging words about how they view moderates, either you are with us or against us,” Ms. Snowe said. She said national Republican leaders were not grasping that “political diversity makes a party stronger and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history for any political party the way things are unfolding.”

Naturally, being another potential ship-jumper gives Snowe and Collins some extra leverage in the Senate with McConnell -- but at the same time, they will probably face even more vicious attacks from the base, leaving the Repub party in a bind: if they buy off Snowe and Collins, the base (which controls primaries elsewhere, and demands abject obedience to Rush) will rebel, but if they don't buy them off, Snowe is obviously not far from switching, herself.

And face it: under the current circumstances, Harry Reid can offer Olympia and Susan a lot more -- and Olympia and Susan will have more leverage, objectively, as majority swing votes rather than minority swing votes -- than if either one stays with the Repubs.

We haven't seen the end of this game...indeed, it might accelerate, especially once Franken is seated.

Posted by: PQuincy on April 28, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yah! Another mole in the Democratic Party!

The only thing Arlen's switch does is tip the Senate balance from GOP obstructionism to Dem obstructionism of the Obama agenda. Oh joy.

Posted by: Disputo on April 28, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Specter:

While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.

I actually have to agree with that. Elsewhere today I read where he rated a 33.3% progressive voting record (whatever that really means), and I do recall him at least trying to think for himself in the Judicial Committee, where he took to task several Bush appointees - but then he did cave at the end (under what pressures we can only surmise). We might even hope that, lacking that GOP leadership pressure, Specter will find his independence more to our liking.

Hey, even one vote that he changes is a good thing!

Posted by: SteveGinIL on April 29, 2009 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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