On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched political parties from Republican to Democrat. The move has the potential of netting the Democrats a 60-seat majority in the Senate — if Al Franken's bid in Minnesota is secure — which enables them to end a filibuster on a bill.
Specter, 79, has been Pennsylvania's moderate Republican senator for nearly 30 years. The senator was planning to run for re-election in 2010, but his slim chances for winning a primary against former Rep. Pat Toomey helped fuel the party change. In Pennsylvania primaries, only registered party voters can vote a candidate. Thousands of former GOP voters in the state became Democrats last year to vote for President Barack Obama — further diminishing the pool to re-elect Specter.
To persuade Specter to move to the Democratic caucus, Vice President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell vowed financial support for his re-election effort, as well as helping clear the field of opponents in the primaries. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated that President Obama would personally campaign for him on the trail.
Specter said it was more than career self-interest that led him to the switch. In his press conference, he railed against his former party for moving too far to the right. He also condemned the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth, which Toomey once led, for setting up primary battles that hurt the election of several moderate Republican candidates.
The effect Specter's vote will have in pushing through the president's key legislative efforts is unclear. Specter, who had formerly supported the bill, said he would neither vote for the EFCA card check bill, which would make it easier for unions to form, nor vote for cloture on the bill, which would make it a simple majority vote. On Wednesday, Specter voted against the president's budget. But for the upcoming fight for health care, Specter could be a key vote for the Democrats.
Q: Does Sen. Specter's switch from Republican to Democrat make a difference as the president tries to push through his policies? Or is the switch merely symbolic?