Much, too much perhaps, is being made of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s move from the Republican Party to the Democrat Party.
There is a lot to be said of it, of course, but it is probably best to let Specter speak for himself. A month ago he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket.” That was then, this is now. Yesterday he told CNN, he had “surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls . . . and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak.” That means bleaker than in 2004 when he won the primary with only fifty-one percent of the vote.
Watching his Republican primary poll numbers go south in potential match-ups with possible GOP opponents can be said to concentrate the political mind wonderfully. His poll numbers with GOP voters have been hovering around twenty-one percent. Being the only Republican senator to vote for the Obama administration’s bailout, hugely unpopular with Pennsylvania Republicans, singled him out as a marked man. Unwilling to let his twenty-nine years in the Senate undergo electoral scrutiny in a Republican primary, he has wisely decided that Democratic primary voters might be counted upon to render a judgment more to his liking.
Fair enough. As a past Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, once put it, “All politics is local.” The short story is: What it is is getting re-elected. I see very little else to it.
But that is not the story going around. The story line for Specter comes out something like “mean old GOP right wing drives out warm-hearted Republican moderate.” The sidebar says, “this spells doom for Republican Party as a national force.”
Oh, pish. There was no similar trope for Democrats when Senator Joe Liberman lost the 2006 Democratic primary. His support for the Iraq war was his undoing among liberal Democrats. He declared himself independent and successfully mounted a third-party reelection campaign in Connecticut, defeating both the Republican nominee and the official Democratic nominee.
The Republicans have a lot of party building to do, no doubt. So did the Democrats in 1994 when Republicans swept the House. There’s just not much new under the sun.