Wow, didn't see this one coming:
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.
Specter's decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken's victory in the state Supreme Court.)
"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," said Specter in a statement. "I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election."
He added: "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."
I'd like to think it was torture that did him in, considering that Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice prosecuted cases of waterboarding, and the conservative movement today now defends it. But this is about raw politics, of course. A recent poll showed Specter down 21 points in a Republican primary against Pat Toomey. There was no way whatsoever for him to win that race, and Pennsylvania law would have made it impossible for him to run as an independent after the primary. Last week, unions tried to bargain with Specter, offering help in his re-election in exchange for a vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. However, this change was not made in Specter's statement on becoming a Democrat.
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.
That said, party shifts in Congress are frequently accompanied by a re-calibration of policy positions. I would expect to see Specter move more in line with Democratic positions at this point, lest he face a challenge to his left in a Democratic primary (though he'd have Ed Rendell's support, and I would think it would be very tough to beat him in a primary).
This does give a tentative 60 votes for Democrats, provided that Al Franken comes aboard sometime in June. Pretty dramatic. But Specter will still need pressure on him to follow Democratic policy in the Senate. As for Republicans, their move to the rump regional party continues unabated. Leader Limbaugh apparently said today, essentially, good riddance.
What will be interesting to see is how the media approaches this. They would seemingly be quick to honor Specter's noble bipartisan Broderism, but at the same time would be conflicted by him throwing in his lot with the dirty hippies on the left.
...Democrats won't run a primary challenger against Specter. He actually has a fairly high approval rating among Democrats, so even a challenger with support and funding would have trouble beating him, to say nothing of a grassroots challenger. We're stuck with Specter and will have little political leverage against him. History shows that converts shift to the middle of their new party ideology, but I don't know that will be the case with Specter. He'll probably just be like President Ben Nelson.