Growing up just north of Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to have Sen. Arlen Specter as my senator from the time I could vote until 1992 when I left the Commonwealth.
As someone who still follows Pennsylvania politics, Mr. Specter’s announcement on Tuesday is both surprising and expected. Surprising in that Mr. Specter received extraordinary support from then President George W. Bush and fellow Sen. Rick Santorum (R., PA) in the last election cycle to defeat his primary election rival Pat Toomey. Surprising, too, is the fact that Senator Specter was the most vocal member of the Senate when Sen. Jim Jeffords, (R., VT) became an Independent.
It is not surprising that he switched parties to most observers of Mr. Specter’s career. He often voted with the Democratic Party on issues that cut across conservative principles – such as the stimulus bill and lack of support for certain appointments of conservative nominees.
On the Senator’s website press release – paid for by Citizens for Arlen Specter – the senator states that the Republican Party has moved too far to the right. If anything the party that swept Mr. Specter into office on the long coattails of President Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1980 was as conservative as the party has been in my lifetime. So any notion that the party has moved further to the “right” is nonsense.
With as much respect as I have for George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, neither were conservative stalwarts. They were two executives who made a real attempt to reach across the aisle. They made concessions to move forward legislation that they felt would benefit the citizens of this country. This was, at times, contrary to true conservative values.
Mr. Specter believes that this move is in keeping with the philosophy of the “new” electorate. That is the 200,000 Pennsylvania Republicans who changed their registration this past year to the Democratic Party. Mr. Specter fails to realize that the voters who changed their registration have not changed their long-held values, positions or “philosophy” on critical issues.
In his statement Mr. Specter does not want to place his future in the hands of those who supported his runs in years past. He stated: “I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican electorate.”
In prior elections it was more important to the Republican establishment to have a Republican in the Senate with liberal views than to have a Democrat in the Senate with liberal views. Now that the majority in the Senate is securely in Democrat hands, there is no support for Mr. Specter among Pennsylvania’s elected officials and party leadership.
It is true that Pennsylvania is a state that is a majority Democrat state, but it is obvious that Mr. Specter made the switch, not due to shifts in philosophy, but one of political expediency. He knew that he had worn out his extended welcome in Republican circles.
This end has been coming for a while as Mr. Specter has been walking back and forth over both sides of the double yellow lines that divide the political highway. He realized that – if he stayed on the right side – he would be run over in the primary by the Republican establishment. Now he needs to take care to look at the traffic coming in the opposite direction.
If he thinks that the left will give him a free pass through the primary process he is mistaken. The governor and other Democratic Party leaders will attempt to clear the way, but that doesn’t mean that it will be easy. There are definitely positions that Mr. Specter holds that are opposite of liberal orthodoxy. At the very least, he may well walk into the general election weakened.
With Mr. Specter realizing that he would not make it through this primary season as a Republican, he decided that instead of fighting for his views and values to win over fellow Republicans, the Senator is taking his 29 years of office down the hall and to the left.
Senator Specter, don’t underestimate Pat Toomey in the general election. He drives down the “right” side of the road.