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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Monday, April 27, 2009

Letter From the Editor: An Increasingly Frustrated Right Wing Is Going Bonkers

Republicans' Strident Protests Against Obama's Reversals of Bush Policies are Falling on Deaf Ears, While Right-Wing Fox News and Talk-Radio Commentators Resort to Increasingly Bitter Anti-Obama Rhetoric in a So-Far Futile Effort to Turn Back the Voters' Clear Mandate for Change

Going stir-crazy: Conservatives have been ripping their hair out since President Obama took office 100 days ago this week. Conservatives' allies in the Republican Party have effectively been rendered powerless by an electorate hungry for a change in direction from the policies of former President George W. Bush. With opinion polls showing strong public approval of Obama's performance as president -- and even stronger disapproval of congressional Republicans' -- conservatives are having a very hard time dealing with the voters' resounding repudiation of the GOP last November. (Photo courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, April 27, 2009)
(Updated 5:00 p.m. EDT Monday, April 27, 2009)


Dear Readers,

This week, specifically Wednesday, marks the completion of President Obama's first 100 days in office. And the tone he has set in those 100 days is driving conservatives and their Republican allies -- who until Obama's election last November had dominated the national political discourse for a generation -- absolutely bonkers.

Adding to the conservatives' frustration: Nobody other than Republicans are listening to them. And the Republicans' protests against the president's policies are falling on deaf ears -- except those of right-wing talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel, whose commentators have as of late taken an increasingly bitter hard line against the Obama administration and the president himself.

Fox News has now come under criticism from the public for being too critical of the president, according to a recent survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Nearly three-in-ten respondents (29 percent) selected Fox when asked which of six broadcast and cable news networks have been too critical of the new Democratic president, a far greater share than any other network.

By contrast, no one TV network is singled out for being too easy on Obama. Each of five networks (CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC and CBS) was named by about one in six respondents in this regard. Again, Fox News stands apart -- just five percent named Fox as being too easy on the president, the Pew survey found.

But Fox News, owned by billionaire media magnate Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., isn't alone in coming under fire. Readers of the News Corp.-owned New York Post are also registering their dissatisfaction with the hard-right-leaning tabloid -- by abandoning it altogether.

The latest circulation figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six months ending March 31 found that the money-losing Post suffered the worst decline of any American daily newspaper in an industry battered by the recession -- a staggering 20.5 percent, or about 144,000 copies -- to its lowest circulation in more than 30 years, to 558,140.


The Republicans have been effectively relegated to irrelevancy by the voters, who not only handed Obama the keys to the White House, but also gave his Democratic Party bigger majorities in both houses of Congress, a majority (27-23) of the 50 state governorships and majority control (27-14) of the 50 state legislatures (Eight legislatures are under split control; although Nebraska's 49-member, single-chamber legislature is officially nonpartisan, Republicans hold a 32-17 majority).

It gets worse: The Republicans are being forced to confront the very real prospect of remaining cast out in the political wilderness for at least a decade or longer -- perhaps even a generation. Having long ago lost the support of African Americans and women, the GOP has now lost the support of Latinos.

More ominously, the Republicans have lost the support of young people, who went more than 2-1 for Obama and the Democrats. Young people -- who now outnumber their 76-million-strong Baby Boomer elders -- are by far the most socially liberal of all voters, with overwhelming majorities of young people supporting abortion rights and same-gender marriage fiercely opposed by conservatives.

One of the country's most prominent social conservatives, Dr. James Dobson, who recently retired as head of Focus on the Family, conceded, in a farewell address to Focus on the Family staff, that with Obama's election and the Democrats' tighter grip on Congress, conservatives have lost the culture wars.

“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action,” he said. “We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”

While Dobson acknowledged that social conservatives' association with the deeply unpopular Bush administration -- combined with a series of sex and corruption scandals that plagued congressional Republicans -- contributed to the failure of the key objectives of social conservatives' 30-year struggle, he also acknowledged what many of his peers would not: That the social conservatives failed to win over the hearts and minds of young people.


The shellacking handed to the Republicans by the voters in 2008 -- on top of mass defections from the party since 2006 -- has left the GOP a shell of its once-dominant self: A rapidly-shrinking regional party of the Deep South, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West dominated by mostly rural, middle-aged-and-older white conservative males.

Moderate suburban voters who have long identified themselves as Republicans have abandoned the party in droves, saying that the GOP has moved too far to the right. Most of those moderate former Republicans are now independents, with some -- particularly in the Northeast -- having gone all the way and switched to the Democrats.

The Northeast is now by far the most solidly Democratic region in the country, where Republicans have rapidly become an endangered species. The already solid-blue West Coast is more Democratic than ever and, thanks to the economic downturn, the Midwest and vast swaths of the desert Southwest have moved into the Democratic column.

Even Texas -- a longtime Republican bastion that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since native-son Lyndon Johnson in 1964 or a Democrat for governor since Anne Richards in 1990 -- is becoming more and more "purple," as growing numbers of voters, particularly moderates, are becoming increasingly turned off by the right-wing domination of the state GOP and the party itself is on the brink of an all-out ideological civil war sparked by Governor Rick Perry's ill-conceived remarks about the state seceding from the Union.

Meanwhile, social conservatives are screaming for GOP National Chairman Michael Steele's head for having dared to say, in an interview with the men's lifestyle magazine GQ, that abortion "is an individual choice" and that the matter should be left up to the states to decide.

But does anybody outside the GOP really give a damn about Steele's ultimate fate? It doesn't appear to be so, as this writer sees it.


Nor does it appear that anybody outside the GOP gives a damn what the Republicans are saying about the Obama administration's policies. Indeed, as he marks his 100th day in office on Wednesday, Obama is enjoying the highest job-approval and personal favorability ratings of any president at the 100-day mark since Ronald Reagan's 67 percent rating in 1981.

With the public solidly behind him, Obama has become as much of a "Teflon president" as Reagan was, impervious to the slings and arrows of criticism hurled at him by the opposing party.

According to an analysis of opinion polls by the Pew Center, Obama is enjoying a 63 percent job-approval rating, matching that of Jimmy Carter in 1977, but much higher than his most recent Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton (55 percent in 1993) and Republicans George H.W. Bush (58 percent in 1989) and George W. Bush (56 percent in 2001).

Obama's personal favorability ratings have soared even higher, to a whopping 73 percent, according to Pew -- with 38 percent viewing him very favorably. This is far higher than either the younger Bush (61 percent in July 2001) and Clinton (60 percent in May 1993). The president is basking in the highest job-approval ratings among Democrats of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt -- an overwhelming 93 percent positive. And he's enjoying a nearly 2-1 approval rating among independents: 58 percent to 27 percent.

Only among Republicans does Obama rack up a majority negative job approval rating, with 56 percent of Republicans giving him negative marks and only 30 percent of GOPers, mostly moderates, giving him positive reviews. A strong 42 percent of Republicans -- principally the party's hard-core conservative base -- views Obama very negatively. Only Bill Clinton draws even higher negative ratings (65 percent) from Republicans than Obama.


But with Republicans now comprising a paltry 21 percent of the nation's registered voters -- outnumbered by both Democrats (45 percent) and independents (34 percent), according to a recent state-by-state analysis of voters' party affiliations by Gallup, the opposition to Obama is a muted one, much to the chagrin of conservatives.

By contrast, Republicans in Congress are drawing record-low approval ratings -- lower than even those of former President Bush, according to Gallup, which found that 69 percent of Americans disapprove of congressional Republicans' job performance and only 25 percent approve.

Bush, the most unpopular president in America's post-World War II history, left office in January with a 67 percent negative and 29 percent positive job-approval rating.

The 25 percent positive approval rating for the Republicans in Congress is a new Gallup Poll low, surpassing the previous record-low 26 percent measured about this time last year. Gallup first began asking about approval of the Congressional parties in 1999.


The president is now taking full advantage of his political capital by doing to congressional Republicans what Reagan did to congressional Democrats in 1981: Repeatedly reminding them of his electoral mandate to do things differently from Bush.

At a closed-door meeting Thursday at the White House with GOP leaders, the president reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted in the House with zero votes -- twice -- for his stimulus package, according to the liberal-leaning Web site

The Web site quoted GOP sources as saying that the president raised the specter of giving Senate Democrats the green light to put his health-care reform plan on the "fast track" next fall by using a legislative process known as reconciliation, eliminating the 60-vote requirement for passage and robbing the GOP of its power to block the measure with a filibuster.

Remember the furor during the Democratic primary campaign when Obama praised Reagan's effectiveness as president? Well, who would have thought back then that the Democratic 44th president would employ the iron will of the Republican 40th president to push through his agenda for change?

I certainly didn't. But I'm very satisfied that he is.

Skeeter Sanders,
Editor & Publisher,
The 'Skeeter Bites Report

# # #

Volume IV, Number 33
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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