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Arlen Specter Switches Parties, Still Calls GOP 'Us'

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Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's announcement today that he will run for reelection as a Democrat startled many people and captured part of a news cycle. Specter's press conference, just aired on cable, contains food for second thought. Actually, this started back in 2006, when significant figures in the GOP adopted a new gambit: Tired of losing as Republicans, more of them began running as Democrats. Missouri and Kansas are and were prime examples, though Maryland among other states also had some newly reinvented contenders.

Now Pennsylvania has joined the Louisiana Purchase club of new old guard.

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  • "I will not be an automatic 60th vote."
  • Specter's "own poll results" in Pennsylvania showed his chances of winning the GOP primary there to be dismal.
  • He blames the state of the GOP largely on "extremes" that he says, deferring to conventional wisdom on this point, have taken over the Republican Party.
  • He laments that the social conservatives, so intent on winning primaries that they are indifferent to winning elections ("stage 2"), have "cost us 34 federal judges."
  • He opposes the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the Office of Legal Counsel in Justice.
  • He still opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, supported by organized labor.
  • He opposes 'reconciliation,' i.e. passing legislation that lacks Republican support in Congress.
  • He mentioned Joe Lieberman, now-Independent senator from Connecticut who won the general after losing the Democratic primary in that state, more than once, and favorably.
  • He said that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have promised him their support in the Pennsylvania primary.
  • He said that he'd been promised that his seniority as a Democrat in the Senate would date from 1980-putting him ahead of most Democrats, in the line-up for significant committee chairmanships.
  • Most of this sounds ominous.

    Predictions are futile, but a few questions at the very least are necessary:

    1. How will Specter's party switch affect the litigation over the senate seat in Minnesota? In spite of all his own caveats-above--Specter's switch was instantly loudly ballyhooed on the airwaves as giving Obama that magic 60-vote 'filibuster-proof majority.' A few days ago, some senior Republicans were calling on Norm Coleman to show a little dignity and cease his court efforts against Al Franken. If Republicans continue to call for Coleman to bow out, it can safely be inferred that they do not fear the kind of 60-vote majority created by Specter. If-on the other hand-they do actually see something to fear from Specter, the Coleman-Franken litigation should be protracted to the maximum extent.
    2. Can Specter win a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania? Presumably he will benefit from having more than one primary opponent. His opponents will inevitably split what you might call the anti-Clarence Thomas vote, or the pro-union vote, among others.
    3. If Specter fails to win the Democratic primary, will he then pull a Lieberman and run as an 'Independent'? We're seeing a lot of newly coined 'political independents' around the country lately, too. And if he does so, can he pull off Lieberman's kind of success?

    It looks only too likely that Specter will have Lieberman's support, whatever he does. The Dems' main challenge-and this really should have been clear since November 2008-is interior.

    More on this later.

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    Margie Burns is a freelance journalist in metro D.C. with a blog on government, law and politics, and Hill credentials through the Austin-based Progressive Populist. Her articles have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, (more...)
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