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28 Apr

Arlen Specter to Switch Parties

The 60th Vote                                 

Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania since 1980, said on April 28, 2009 that he would switch to the Democratic party, a move that could reshape the balance of power in Washington. Mr. Specter, running to be elected to a sixth term in 2010, already faced a primary challenge from a conservative opponent, former congressman Pat Toomey, whom Mr. Specter only narrowly fended off in the 2004 primary.

Conservatives in Pennsylvania have opposed Mr. Specter for years, and moderates, tens of thousands of them, have deserted the party and registered as Democrats. That has left a smaller Republican Party dominated by conservatives and has made Mr. Specter vulnerable to a challenge from the right.

Mr. Specter had long held fast to his identity as part of a dwindling band of Republican moderates. As one of only three Republican members of Congress who supported the stimulus – and the only one up next year for re-election – he appeared to be something of a test case for their survival.

Mr. Specter, who says he voted for the stimulus to prevent the economy from worsening, had built his career on skillfully navigating between Republicans and Democrats. But doing so had always come at a price. Now, at 79, faced with the prospect of becoming the political equivalent of a man without a country, he decided no longer to resist the entreatis he had periodically received to join the Democrats.

If Al Franken prevails in his ongoing court case in the Minnesota senate recount and Mr. Specter begins caucusing with Democrats, Democrats would have 60 votes and the ability to deny Republicans the chance to stall legislation.

After Mr. Specter’s stimulus vote in February, he plunged in polls of Republicans. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that Republican voters preferred Mr. Toomey over Mr. Specter, 41 percent to 27 percent, with 28 percent undecided. (The margin of sampling error for the poll of Republican voters is plus or minus five percentage points.) And the chairmen of both the Pennsylvania and national Republican parties have said they were open to backing a challenger, an unusual slight to a five-term incumbent.

Mr. Toomey, who declared his candidacy on April 15, 2009, lost to Mr. Specter in 2004 by less than 2 percent of the vote. But so many moderates have defected from the party – particularly from Mr. Specter’s base in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties – that Mr. Toomey is better positioned this time, at least for the primary.

Mr. Specter had always remained relatively popular with Democrats. They have appreciated much in his history – his support for abortion rights, his blocking of Judge Robert H. Bork from a seat on the Supreme Court, as well as his stimulus vote – but they have been furious with him, too, notably for his support for Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court and his related interrogation of Anita F. Hill, who had accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment.

Before switching parties, Mr. Specter had given every indication that he would fight aggressively in the primary against Mr. Toomey, raising $6.7 million. He spent $100,000 in television commercials trying to link Mr. Toomey, a former derivatives trader, with the financial crisis.

Specter’s Statement on His Decision to Switch Parties

The following is a statement from Senator Arlen Specter on his decision, after four decades as a Republican lawmaker, to switch to the Democratic party.

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 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 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.

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