Live Analysis of Senator Arlen Specter’s Party Switching Announcement

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is about to announce that he will be switching to the Democratic Party.

I brought you this story earlier today, and since then, Senator Specter released the following statement on his campaign website:

Statement by Senator Arlen Specter

April 28, 2009

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 especially 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.

Senator Specter is about to give his speech, and I will be analyzing that live.

Alright, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is now speaking, saying that this was simply a move on Specter’s behalf to try to remain in the Senate self-preservation – even his own pollster said that he couldn’t win the primary.  Cornyn had previously backed Specter, and had endorsed him in the primary, but according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), now that Specter has “defected,” Cornyn is no longer backing Specter now that he’s switched parties.

Now waiting for Senator Specter to come out for his speech.

Hehe – there’s a typo on FOX News – they spelled “plane” as “plan”.

And now Senator Specter is coming out – he’s about to start his speech here.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in-line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.”

Now talking about why he voted AYE on the stimulus plan, in order to avoid a depression reminiscent of the 1929 depression.

He’s saying that he’s travelled across Pennsylvania and looked at Republican opinion polls and “have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak.”

He’s saying that he’s not prepared to have his 29 year record in the Senate decided by the Republican Primary electorate, but he wants the general election participants to decide.

“This is a painful decision.  I know that I’m disappointing many of my friends and colleagues.  Frankly, I’ve been disappointed by some of the responses.”

He’s saying that he’s doing this because he wants to finish things for Pennsylvania in the Senate, and that his seniority helps get things done.  He’s talking about medical research and funding for the National Institutes of Health.

He’s saying that he won’t be changing his “own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues.  I will not be an automatic 60th vote.”  I think we all saw that coming – Specter has never been a party-line follower, and I didn’t think that’d change.

He’s saying that he is still opposed to Card Check.

He’s saying that he agrees with Kennedy in that “my party asks to much.”  He said he’d vote his conscience.

Reporter: Are you putting your [unintelligible] ahead of your principles? (basically a question of whether he’s just doing this to get himself reelected)

Specter: No, I’m putting my principles as number 1.  He’s talking about issues that he’s worked for – health care, immigration, foreign issues.

Reporter: How did the Republicans react in caucus and have you talked to President Obama?

Specter: I’ve talked to Obama, and everybody was friendly and shook my hand.  Jokes were made between me and other members.

Reporter: Do you expect to chair a committee?

Specter: I discussed this with Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) – and we’ll act like I’ve been a Democrat since 1980, so wherever that puts me in seniority.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: The decision was reached gradually as I travelled the state in recent months.  I got campaign poll results and discussed them with my campaign managers, “and I came to a decision this past weekend.”

Reporter: “Have the Democratic leaders been lobbying you?”

Specter: Yes, “for the last 5 years.”  “When they saw my voting record and they saw the approach I was taking to government.”  He’s saying that it’s important to have a 2-party system and a moderate wing to that 2-party system.  He’s saying that the Pennsylvania Republican electorate has shifted to the Democrats and “we do not have a dominant voice there.”  He’s talking about Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) not being able to win in his primary.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: I would be behind Senator [Patrick] Leahy [D-VT] – for some committee.  Now talking about committees and subcommittees that he could be chairing.

Reporter: Something about the role of health care.

Specter: Talking about important issues he’s been involved in: Supreme Court nominations, interrogation techniques, health care, the stimulus plan.

Reporter: “How are you going to vote on the Don Johnson nomination?”

Specter: I am opposed to the  nomination of Don Johnson.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: The party has shifted to the right – it was pretty far to the right in 2004.  Talking about Republicans who switched parties in 2008, plus the stimulus vote, and that’s why he’s saying the prospects are bleak.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: “Because most people do not participate in the political process. … If the electorate as a whole participated in the political process and the primary process” both Joe Lieberman and I would win our primaries.

Reporter: When did you talk to the Democrats’ leaders?

Specter: Last night.

Reporter: Did the leaders say they’d support you in a primary?

Specter: Yes, Obama did, and Senator Reid, and Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA).

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: Talking about Republicans not rallying behind moderates and Club for Growth backing hard core conservatives and then the right wing conservatives losing the general election.

Reporter: Something about reconciliation for the health care bill.

Specter: I’m opposed to reconciliation being used on any major bill.  The 60 vote threshold should remain for the health care bill as well.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: Talking about his views on Pell Grants, stem cells, health care – saying he has to look at if it’s realistic to fight for the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

Specter: Not everybody will agree with all of my votes.  “I don’t agree with all of them myself at this point.”  You can pick out thousands of votes where people disagreed with me.  He’s saying that he alienated Republicans with the stimulus and Democrats by opposing the Employee Free Choice  Act, which then alienated union supporters.

Had to switch TV stations here – my station cut to the CDC coverage of swine flu.

Specter: I’ll still be opposed to too much executive power.

Reporter: Have you changed your party registration?

Specter: I can’t do that until May.  It’s closed in Pennsylvania right now, but I will do it in May.

And the Senator is now leaving the press conference.

Alright, so what’s my opinion on Senator Specter’s switch?  On the one hand, I can definitely understand why Senator Specter did this; however, I think he could have done this better.  I think a lot of people are going to view him as simply switching to preserve his position in the Senate.  I think a better way for him to stay in the Senate would be to lose his Republican primary, and do like Joe Lieberman and run as an Independent.  I think this is going to really anger a LOT of Democrats who opposed Specter in the past (especially the union wing of the party), and I wouldn’t be surprised if a 3rd party liberal candidate pops up and gathers a decent amount of support.  Ultimately I think that Specter will keep his seat, and this may be the easiest way for him to do that, but the election is still a year and a half away, and a lot of wacky things could happen between now and then.

I will say that this move really helps the Republican cause.  On the one hand, if he loses to the Republican in 2010 (probably Pat Toomey), we have a strong conservative representing Pennsylvania in the Senate.  On the other hand, if Senator Specter is reelected as a Democrat, we still have a decent ally in the Senate.  I’d rather have Specter in the Senate voting with the Republican Party 30% of the time than a hard core liberal in the Senate who only votes with the Republican party <10% of the time.

While I think that this was a  poor way to preserve his Senate seat, I have a heck of a lot of respect for Senator Specter and some of the great things he’s done for America and Pennsylvania.  He genuinely cares about America, and while I disagree with some of his views, I respect him as a person, and I wish him the best.

Done Reporting,

Ranting Republican

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