Faced with dim prospects for reelection in Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter has announced that he will switch parties. The question is how democrats in Pennsylvania will feel about Specter who supported Bush on critical issues. After eight years under George W. Bush, Specter has come to the conclusion that he is really a Democrat and does not share the same GOP values as his former party.
Specter issued a statement that “I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.” Specter came to this epiphany not during the torture debate or the unlawful surveillance debate (which he publicly criticized the Administration but ultimately voted to back up the president), but rather when Republicans are failing like leaves and Democrats are preparing for a highly likely victory. By resigning now, Specter hopes to start to vote in line with his state to erase the memories of the last six years in his votes on Supreme Court nominees, immunity and other issues. Spector has often played Hamlet on such issues publicly, but largely worked with the Administration in securing votes on most of these issues. Indeed, his Chairmanship (before the fall of the GOP in the Senate) was based on his assured loyalty to the Bush agenda.
What is interesting is that in the statement below, Specter focuses on the unpopularity of the stimulus vote to Republicans and says that he regrets that so many in the GOP do not want him for their candidate. It falls a bit flat as a statement of principle and value differences.
The Senate Democrats have welcomed Specter into the fold and are expected to give him some seniority benefits for his defection.
Specter, 79 is in his fifth term and his new strategy will test how short the memory of Pennsylvania voters is. , is one of a handful of Republican moderates remaining in Congress in a party now dominated by conservatives. Several officials said the White House as well as leaders in both parties had been involved in discussions leading to his move.
If Franken wins in Minnesota, it will give Democrats total control and filibuster proof in the Senate.
Here is his full statement this afternoon:
Statement by Sen. Arlen Specter:
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 reelection in 2010 in the Democratic primary.
I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for reelection 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 specially 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 reelection 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.
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