The Specter switch

May 4, 2009, midnight | By Lauren Kestner | 15 years, 2 months ago

In an unexpected turn of events on Capital Hill Tuesday, Senator Arlen Specter (R - Pa.) announced his intention to run as a Democrat in the 2010 congressional election. So what's the big deal? Assuming that Al Franken (D - Minn.) is granted a Senate seat after a court hearing scheduled for June 2009, Specter's defection means that Democrats will soon have the 60 seats needed for a filibuster-proof majority.

The response among Democrats was universal and well, predictable. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, who is rumored to have lobbied Specter to make the switch, congratulated the Senator on his decision. Senate Democrats also embraced Specter, extolling his defection as crucial to the swift passage of controversial health care and energy initiatives proposed under the Obama administration.

Senator Arlen Specter (R - Pa.) announces his decision to run as a Democrat in the 2010 congressional election at a press conference held Tuesday. Picture courtesy of the Washington Post.

Blindly optimistic Democrats need to shake themselves from this delusive state. At his press conference on Tuesday, Specter asserted time and again that he will not sacrifice his personal independence or alter his moderate stance on key issues to conform to the Democratic platform. Specter cited his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, a Democrat-backed initiative that would remove obstacles to employees who want union representation. "I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture," he declared during his address.

Specter first considered changing party membership after his support of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - a controversial bailout bill backed by only two other Republicans - triggered a sharp decline in the polls. Although Specter supports gay marriage, abortion rights and the universal health care plan offered by the Obama administration, he remains a devoted advocate for Second Amendment rights and favors school vouchers - positions traditionally held by Republicans.

Specter claims that his growing dissatisfaction with the direction of the Republican Party prompted the switch, but let's be honest. Far from a change in party affiliation on ideological grounds, Specter's decision was a calculated gamble to avoid losing the 2010 congressional election to former Representative Patrick Toomey, who held a 21-point lead over Specter in the days leading up to the announcement. President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D - Nev.) have already promised to campaign for Specter in Pennsylvania, endorsements he likely anticipated as a reward for his highly visible shift in party lines.

In short, Democrats can't expect Specter to be the dependable 60th cloture vote every time Obama's health care or energy initiatives come under fire from conservatives. In 1965, he lost a Democratic primary for District Attorney in Pennsylvania and switched to the Republican Party to win the general election. Specter's party affiliation at any given moment - and to a greater extent, his stance on the issues - seems to hinge purely on political convenience.

Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »

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