Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Arlen Specter's defection from GOPer to Democrat is the political buzzer button of the day. While it has positive psychological effect for Democrats, and the opposite for GOPer prospects, its ultimate effects are apt to be a lot more complicated, and won't be known for awhile.

Specter will get the Dem nomination in the primary for reelection to the Senate, since the support of Gov. Rendell (who was Specter's assistant when Arlen was Philly DA back in the day) was probably part of the deal, along with holding on to his seniority. With a big Dem majority in PA, he seems likely to win reelection. But...

Either he'll have to do it without organized labor or his candidacy is going to cause problems between Dems and Labor, owing to Specter suddenly backing off supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. Since Specter's primary concern is--as it has always been--his own political skin, he may find a face-saving way to support it with some minor molifying change in the legislation.

Specter's votes in the Senate are hardly in the bag for the Dems, especially on the big ticket items. He'll vote for the budget, but his effect on health care may be complicated. He's against using budget reconciliation to require only a majority on health care, and if the party moves in his direction, thinking that (with Franken seated) they have the 60 votes needed to neuter fillibuster, he's in better position to water down the legislation.

He's also not likely to vote for meaningful cap and trade or any climate crisis legislation. Since that's the most troubled area--partly because the Dem leadership says it isn't applying reconciliation to cap and trade--I don't see Specter's new-found Demhood as all that useful. He's just another quarrelsome conservative Dem.

There are significant unknowns in all of this. It's not an absolute given that the PA GOPers will nominate ultra-conservative Pat Toomey, currently polling so far ahead of Specter for the GOP primary that Arlen had to check out of the GOPer hotel. If Tom Ridge gets into the Senate race, then everything is shaken up, including Specter's reelection. Whereas if Specter had stayed a GOPer, he would have lost the primary, and Toomey would have lost the election to Any Democrat.

If the Dems are smart they will keep the pressure on Arlen, by letting someone run to the left of him for the primary, at least for awhile, until he's made a few meaningful votes. Similarly, the Dem party coffers should not open up to Specter until he's demonstrated that he is a Dem in more than name. Specter has a history of managing to find his principles flexible enough to do what is politically best for himself. The Dems need to use that kind of self-interest in the interest of the Obama agenda.

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