Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Did Specter Become a Democrat?

The biggest news story today in the political scene is the party-switch by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. As one of the last moderate Republicans in the Senate, Specter was facing a tough primary from former GOP Congressman Pat Toomey.

From his statement today:

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.

But it goes on…

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.

(The emphasis is our own)

Was Specter afraid of losing his primary? Prominent Republican leaders seem to think so.

From a statement by Chairman of the NRSC, Sen. John Cornyn:

"Senator Specter’s decision today represents the height of political self-preservation. While this presents a short-term disappointment, voters next year will have a clear choice to cast their ballots for a potentially unbridled Democrat super-majority versus the system of checks-and-balances that Americans deserve."

And RNC Chairman Michael Steele seemed to agree:

Let’s be honest-Senator Specter didn’t leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don’t do it first.

Was this really why Specter changed parties?

Until today, Specter had consistently said it was important for him to remain a Republican. In March, he was quoted by The Hill as saying "I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense — and I don’t want to overstate this — is a national asset because if one was gone, you’d only have 40, the Democrats would have 60, and they would control all of the mechanisms of government."

He was also quoted in Pennsylvania Avenue as saying "And because if we lose my seat they have 60 Democrats, they will pass card check, you will have the Obama tax increases, they will carry out his big spending plans. So the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter is vital to stopping tax increases, passage of card check, and the Obama big spending plans."

So today’s decision certainly seems peculiar.

A Rasmussen poll from Friday showed Toomey to be leading with a majority of voters.

From Rasmussen’s website:

Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter trails former Congressman Pat Toomey by 21 points in an early look at Pennsylvania’s 2010 Republican Primary. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Republican voters statewide say they’d vote for Toomey while just 30% would support Specter.

Specter is viewed favorably by 42% of Pennsylvania Republicans and unfavorably by 55%, according to a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of voters in the state. Those are stunningly poor numbers for a long-term incumbent senator. Specter was first elected to the Senate in 1980.

Toomey, who served in the House from 1999 to 2005, earns positive reviews from 66% and negative comments from just 19%.

Specter had already released an ad against Toomey in anticipation for their primary battle, and the two had been telling voters for a while that the other was unelectable.

Recently we commented on how the GOP was purging their more moderate members. A story from Politico on Sunday seems to confirm this phenomenon.

Specter is a moderate Senator who probably was more in line with the Democrats than the Republicans. But it would probably be naïve to say this move was not because of the Toomey challenge.

As a party, the GOP is moving further to the right. This means that some centrist Republicans are leaving the party. In fact, as few as 21% of Americans still consider themselves Republicans according to recent polls. Nate Silver describes this as a Republican Death Spiral.

Specter was on shaky ground with Republicans in Pennsylvania, but he will be a voice for moderate (former) Republicans, Democrats, and independents now that he has switched parties. Now he has a better chance of returning to Washington in 2011.

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