Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Will political expediency sell in Pennsylvania

Since Arlen Specter has made it very clear that the only reason he switched parties is because he was going to lose the GOP primary, we'll see how attractive such political cynicism will be to Pennsylvanian voters. It not totally obvious that the Democrats are going to clear out the primary for him.
The only Democratic candidate who entered the Senate race prior to Specter’s announcement is Joe Torsella, a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia who headed the National Constitution Center on the city’s Independence Mall.

Torsella, whose wife once worked for Specter on the Senate Judiciary Committee when the incumbent was its chairman, said in a statement that “nothing about today’s news regarding Sen. Specter changes ... my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 — an election that is still a full year away.”

Democratic state Rep. Josh Shapiro, who had been weighing a Senate campaign, told the political Web site PoliticsPA that he would not run, saying Specter “is now the incumbent Democratic senator.”

....Former Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (1999-2005), who was Specter’s Democratic opponent in 2004, said there will be some Democrats who won’t be thrilled with Specter’s switch. But, Hoeffel added, “The bottom line is, I don’t think there will be a competitive Democratic primary now.”

Wearing a new party label after nearly 30 years in the Senate, Specter will have to persuade Pennsylvania Democrats that his party switch is sincere — and not, as Republican strategists allege, a desperate move attributed to his big early deficit to Toomey in GOP primary polls.
How can he convince them that his change was sincere when his own statement lays out the role that his primary poll numbers played in his decision?
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.
But why would Pennsylvania Democrats who would be going into 2010 against Pat Toomey with a strong chance of victory choose a weasely Democrat/Republican/Democrat like Specter when they could pick a real Democrat for that seat? If anything, Specter could possibly be the weakest possible Democratic candidate that Toomey could face. I still think that Toomey loses, unless the economy is in a deep furrow next year and there has been a big backlash against Obama's economic policies. Specter would then bear the burden of having voted for those policies along with the distaste that many people might feel for a turncoat who went back on his strong promise just a month ago that he would not switch. And will Labor lie down quietly for Specter, who reiterated his opposition to Card Check in his statement today, when they could throw their support behind a more reliable pro-Union Democrat? Are they going to want to vote for a guy who supported Bush's judicial nominees and helped lead the fight for Clarence Thomas?

Mary Katherine Ham notes that two possible Democratic candidates for the Pennsylvania primary, who both sound like more attractive Democratic candidates than Specter, seem like they're ready for the fight.

This is still terribly demoralizing for the Republicans but it's not clear that this would change any actual vote in the Senate. Specter was always rather iffy and was already going to be a vote for Obama's budget and health care proposals. We'll see if he falls in with cloture votes with the rest of the Democrats. Meanwhile Bill Pascoe runs the numbers on Specter's ratings from the American Conservative Union and it turns out that there has only been one time when Specter's numbers moved strongly into conservative territory.
Arlen Specter's lifetime ACU rating is a left-of-center 44.47.

But that's not because Specter has moved, over the course of his career, from the right to the left.

As far as the ACU's Rating is concerned, he has always been on the left.
See the link for his numbers from his election in 1980.
Can Arlen Specter's ACU Ratings tell us anything, then?

Why, yes, they can.

Turns out Specter's highest-ever single-year ACU Rating was a 75 he scored in ... 2004, when he was being seriously challenged from the Right by one Pat Toomey.
We all know that he'd still be a Republican if he hadn't faced an impossible-to-win primary. That's just about what he told Mitch McConnell.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell issued the following statement Tuesday about Sen. Specter:

“Well, obviously we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat. He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he’d been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be re-elected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as an Independent and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.”
I assume that Specter's pollster already polled how Specter would do running as a Democrat. But answers in a poll question might be something totally different from real votes as Democrats absorb all the stories about why the guy switched and see the comparisons in the primaries to fresh Democratic faces. The irony will be if statements like that are enough to convince Pennsylvania Democratic Party primary voters that, instead of voting for a cynical and opportunistic Democrat, they'd prefer to vote for a real one.

UPDATE: John Henke checks out how leftist bloggers are reacting to Specter's switch. He comments,
Early reaction (Daily Kos, Glenn Greenwald, The New Republic, MyDD, Open Left) suggests Senator Arlen Specter has somehow managed to join a political Party that dislikes him even more than Republicans did. (See site for links) (Link via Instapundit)
This comment from Glenn Greenwald is typical.
Reports today suggest that Democratic officials promised Specter that the party establishment would support him, rather than a real Democrat, in a primary. If true, few events more vividly illustrate the complete lack of core beliefs of Democratic leaders, as well as the rapidly diminishing differences between the parties. Why would Democrats want a full-blooded Republican representing them in the blue state of Pennsylvania? Specter is highly likely to reprise the Joe Lieberman role for Democrats: a “Democrat” who leads the way in criticizing and blocking Democratic initiatives, forcing the party still further towards Republican policies.

(3) Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics.
And Jonathon Chait chimes in,
But I think it’s pretty clear that Specter is an unprincipled hack. If his best odds of keeping his Senate seat lay in joining the Communist party, he’d probably do that.

Hey, Glenn and Jonathon, Republicans would agree full-throatedly with you there.

And, apparently, people have recognized that Specter is an unprincipled hack for nigh on 40 years.
n his 1970 book "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor," advertising legend Jerry Della Femina tells the story of trying to see Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter:

"'Are you crazy?' his people said. 'Nobody gets to meet Arlen Spector [misspelling in original]. We can't even see him.' 'All right,' I said, 'what's Arlen Specter for?' 'Arlen Specter is for getting elected.' 'All right,' I said. 'What is Arlen Specter against?' 'Arlen Spector is against losing.'"
Ah, the one principle the Senator has - his own electoral success. Will that sell in the Democratic primary? And how will all the Republicans who switched parties last year in order to vote for either Hillary or Obama vote this election? That's going to be an interesting kicker. We'll have to wait and see.

I suppose that as a conservative, I'd have to pull for Specter to pull out a victory after a tough primary that perhaps would leave him damaged in an election against Pat Toomey. Even if Specter wins, he would still be a shakier vote for the Democrats in the Senate than a more principled Democrat. But there would still be a delightful schadenfreude in seeing him go down in the primary next year. So, from a pure entertainment perspective, this is going to be quite interesting.