Thursday, April 30, 2009

Specter Saw Handwriting on Wall: He's Toast With Right-Wing GOP Hard-Liners

The Republican Party 'Has Moved Farther and Farther to the Right' as Moderate Voters Abandon the GOP by the Thousands and Polls Find Specter's Support Within the Party Has Collapsed; Revolt Erupts by Conservatives in GOP National Committee Against Embattled Chairman Michael Steele

The latest blow to the GOP could not have come at a worse time: Pennsylvania's senior senator, Arlen Specter (above), on the eve of President Obama's 100th day in office, announced Tuesday that he had abandoned the Republican Party and had joined the Democrats. Specter -- whose switch puts Senate Democrats within one vote of a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority -- is the latest high-profile moderate Republican to abandon the GOP because, in Specter's words, "Since my election in 1980 ... the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right." Meanwhile, a bitter power struggle has erupted within the Republican National Committee, with conservative RNC members seeking to strip Chairman Michael Steele of control of the party's purse strings. (Photo courtesy The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, April 30, 2009)


Harrisburg Patriot-News

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- For five years, Democratic friends like Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Vice President Joe Biden and the state's junior senator, Bob Casey, have increased pressure on Senator Arlen Specter to part ways with a Republican Party that has cannibalized many of its moderate congressional leaders.

The Democrats wanted Specter to join them. Now he has.

Specter, nearing the end of his third decade in the Senate, announced Tuesday that he will run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.


[Meanwhile, a battle over control of the GOP's finances has erupted at the Republican National Committee, with defenders of embattled Chairman Michael Steele accusing conservative RNC members of trying to "embarrass and neuter" the party's new leader, The Washington Times reported Wednesday.

[RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen, former RNC General Counsel David Norcross and three other former top national committee officers have presented Steele with a resolution calling for a new set of checks and balances on the chairman's power to disburse party funds, the Times reported.

[The resolution prompted Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin state GOP and a strong ally of the embattled chairman, to issue a scathing attack against Pullen and his allies after they had asked Steele to support the "good governance" resolution at a special meeting of the full RNC set for May 20.

["I urge you to reject this hostile attempt to embarrass and neuter the chairman of the RNC," the Times quoted Priebus in an e-mail to the 168-member national committee.

[The battle for control of the party's purse strings comes on the heels of another challenge to Steele's authority by party conservatives, who secured enough signatures to force the committee to vote on a resolution labeling Democrats as "socialists," despite Steele's opposition.

[Within hours after the Times story was published, Steele fired back on Wednesday with an e-mail to Pullen, accusing the treasurer and his allies of scheming to undermine his authority as chairman. Steele has been under relentless attack from party conservatives since he was elected RNC chairman in January.

["You have developed a scheme to transfer the RNC chairman's authority to the treasurer and the executive committee," Steele wrote. "It is, of course, not lost on me that each of you worked tirelessly down to the last minute in an effort to stop me from becoming chairman."]


For years, Specter not only resisted the Democrats' call to switch parties, he refused.

Meanwhile, he got standing ovations at rallies last year when he stumped for Republican presidential candidate John McCain -- another maverick who needed Sarah Palin's addition to the ticket to win enthusiasm from GOP stalwarts.

But in November, McCain lost to Barack Obama. And during an economic tailspin that saw voters in the U.S. and Pennsylvania shift demonstrably further Democratic, Specter felt a squeeze tighter than the one Rendell, Biden and Casey had ever put on him.

Last Friday, Specter analyzed numbers from a private poll his campaign has commissioned and saw a "very precipitous shift" in his approval ratings. They had dropped through the floor.

Just like the Quinnipiac, Rasmussen and Franklin & Marshall polls that said Specter was trailing hard-line conservative challenger Pat Toomey by as much as 30 points, Specter knew his fate.

"Bleak," Specter said.


Over the weekend, Specter spoke to his wife and son, and then he slept on his decision Sunday night before setting about the work of making a bombshell announcement. The change gives Specter extended life and Democrats a stunning level of control in the current effort of reshaping American governmental policy.

"Since my election in 1980, the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right," Specter said.

Chalk up another moderate Republican switching party affiliation in Pennsylvania, a change that Specter made official a day before President Obama marked his 100th day in office.

Unlike the 200,000 Pennsylvanians who have done so in the past year, Specter's party shift puts a dramatic coda on an already-rapid state and national trend toward a shrinking GOP.

With this power shift in Congress -- the first outside of the normal election turnover since 2001, when then-Senator Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, abandoned the party and became an independent, throwing control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats -- it's difficult to decide what about this decision is more shocking: Specter's official embrace of the Democratic Party, or his scathing repudiation of the Republican Party.

The 79-year-old, five-term incumbent's switch to the Democratic side of the aisle might have more practical upside for the Democrats.

However, it is Specter's defection from the party he served as a moderate and maverick for 32 years that speaks most glaringly about the fractured state of the two-party system, particularly now that conservative hard-liners have effectively driven moderates from the GOP.


During his news conference in Washington, Specter did not hold back in his criticism of the GOP, particularly toward its conservative wing and activist groups like the Club for Growth, of which Toomey is a former president.

Specter chastised the GOP for not rallying to the defense of moderate Republican candidates, like former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, in previous primary contests. Chafee was targeted by the Club for Growth for no other reason than "for the purity of the party," Specter said.

"To allow them [conservatives] to dominate the party in a time when Republicans lost control of the Senate is beyond me. There ought to be a rebellion," Specter said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tried to diminish the relevancy of Specter's defection on the state and strength of the Republican caucus.

"This is not a national story. This is a Pennsylvania story," McConnell told a press gathering. "He made a totally political decision. His conclusion was, only as a Democrat would he have a chance of retaining this seat."

[McConnell branded Specter's defection a "threat to the country," The Associated Press reported Tuesday. "The threat to the country presented by this defection really relates to the issue of whether or not in the United States of America our people want the majority to have whatever it wants without restraint," said McConnell.

[Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was even more blunt. "It is imperative that we have checks and balances to ensure that Democrats don't take our country radically left," The AP quoted Ensign as saying.]

By making his decision to switch parties, Specter disallows the GOP from further defining him. More significantly, he removes the GOP's ability to drive him out of office on terms he can't control or mediate.

"He did express frustration with the Republican Party, and I can understand that frustration," Casey said. "The national Republican Party says 'no' to everything, whether it's the budget, energy, education. The Republican leadership says 'hell, no' to everything."


Specter said he knows that his support of the $787 billion stimulus was the watershed moment in his political career, marking an irreversible schism.

"I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania," Specter said.

His decision was met with equally hard charges from Republicans.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called the party switch "the height of political self-preservation. "

Cornyn had written a letter to Pennsylvania Republicans last month, urging them to support Specter in the May 2010 primary. Cornyn said Specter was the best chance for the GOP to retain the Senate seat because Toomey could not win a statewide election.

Specter said he will not be in lockstep with the Democrats, just as he voted his conscience as a Republican.

"He will be one of the Democrats less likely to vote for Obama's programs. Having said that, it doesn't mean he won't give votes on some things. He'll give votes for health care. Is he going to vote for the president on energy? I don't think so," said Terry Madonna, professor of politics at Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster.

Casey said Specter's decision should not be seen as a political move. And Casey denied that he, Biden or Rendell made the difference in getting Specter to switch.

"It's not because we recruited him. For someone with Arlen's record and experience, he had to make this decision. There were discussions, and those did occur over time, but this is really something that has weighed on his mind," Casey said.

Now his mind is made up, and the political landscape in Pennsylvania and Washington shifted.

# # #

(The Associated Press and The Washington Times contributed to this report.)

# # #

Volume IV, Number 34
Special Report Copyright 2009, PennLive, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Reaganite Republican Resistance said...

This cynical, self-serving move had absolutely nothing to do with values, policy, or any high-minded thinking of any kind- though President Obama surely would like for you to think that.

Everybody knows he did it because he was down 21% in the polls leading-up to the GOP primary for his seat- and Joey Pluggs made a deal with him, he already admitted as such. The sad truth is that this hack has spent three decades in the Senate, while accomplishing little.

And Barack and him have a lot in common- as unprincipled political opportunists, I’m sure they’ll get along just great.

Just a little over a month ago, the Senator said in an interview that he wouldn’t switch parties due to the importance of checks and balances.

And back in 2001, Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, proposed a rule forbidding party switches… he was upset when Vt Sen. Jim Jeffords’ left the GOP to become an independent.

Who knows what the truth is with this guy, you’ll never get it from him.

With all due respect, Senator- don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. Nobody on our side’s going to miss you.