In a move that brings Democrats another step closer to a powerful 60 vote super-majority in the U.S. Senate (assuming Minnesota Democrat Al Franken is eventually seated), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the 12th-most senior member of the U.S. Senate has today announced that he is switching his party affiliation.
Clearly, this is political survival instinct at work. As a Republican, Specter is toast come 2010, and the Lieberman Independent route isn’t available to him. If Specter wants a sixth term in our nation’s most vaunted deliberative body, he had little choice but to become a Democrat. Sure, he’s grabbing onto the train before it leaves him behind, but no matter how you spin it this is very bad news for the GOP. There’s little doubt that the once brutish muscle of right wing conservatism has atrophied into a increasingly regional (and irrelevant) flap of underarm skin.
Up for re-election in 2010, Specter was certain to face a primary challenge from conservative firebrand Pat Toomey (R-PA), the former Representative the who lost the 2004 GOP primary to Specter by a mere 17,000 votes (out of more than a million cast). Because so many centrist Republicans switched registration to the Democratic Party in the 2008 election cycle, Pennsylvania’s ever shrinking conservative GOP electorate has little room for a moderate like Specter.
“I think he has a lot of problems,” said Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “I think this is the test of lifetime.”
Madonna estimated that between 150,000 to 200,000 centrist Republicans switched registration to the Democratic Party in the 2008 election cycle, leaving the remaining GOP electorate more conservative.
The Pennsylvania Department of State reported more than 130,000 switches from the GOP to the Democratic Party before the 2008 primary contest between President Obama and former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Facing almost certain defeat as a Republican, Specter flirted with the idea of running as an independent, but Pennsylvania law forbids a candidate who loses in a primary to run as an independent in the general election.
Here’s the full statement from Senator Arlen Specter:
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.
When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.
Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.
I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.
I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.
I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters. I can understand their disappointment. I am also disappointed that so many in the Party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides. I thank specially Senators McConnell and Cornyn for their forbearance.
I am not making this decision because there are no important and interesting opportunities outside the Senate. I take on this complicated run for re-election because I am deeply concerned about the future of our country and I believe I have a significant contribution to make on many of the key issues of the day, especially medical research. NIH funding has saved or lengthened thousands of lives, including mine, and much more needs to be done. And my seniority is very important to continue to bring important projects vital to Pennsylvania’s economy.
I am taking this action now because there are fewer than thirteen months to the 2010 Pennsylvania Primary and there is much to be done in preparation for that election. Upon request, I will return campaign contributions contributed during this cycle.
While each member of the Senate caucuses with his Party, what each of us hopes to accomplish is distinct from his party affiliation. The American people do not care which Party solves the problems confronting our nation. And no Senator, no matter how loyal he is to his Party, should or would put party loyalty above his duty to the state and nation.
My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.
Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been talking to Specter about switching parties for months. Reports say that others have pitched in too, including Vice President Biden, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), and Specter’s longtime friend Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
What say you Moose? What does this move mean for Democrats, the GOP, a progressive agenda?