- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Five-term Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday that he is switching parties and will run next year as a Democrat, substantially eroding Republicans’ power in Washington and repositioning himself to ride his popularity among Pennsylvania Democrats to re-election in 2010.

Although he looked at the polls and realized he couldn’t win re-election as a Republican, Mr. Specter said, the Republican Party had “moved far to the right” and he now finds his political philosophy “more in line with Democrats.”

Democrats have cheered Mr. Specter for challenging Republican stances on Capitol Hill.

“I have been a Republican since 1966,” Mr. Specter said. “I have been working extremely hard for the party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.”

His switch, the result of months of lobbying by Democrats, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., gives the Democratic caucus 59 seats, including two independents, in the Senate. The total is one shy of the number needed to prevent Republicans from being able to filibuster.

The move will only intensify the brutal legal battle in Minnesota, where Democrat Al Franken leads Sen. Norm Coleman in the ballot count from November’s election. Mr. Coleman is pursuing legal challenges to the count.

Republicans’ reaction ranged from disappointment to outrage - their Senate campaign committee sent out a fundraising e-mail Tuesday with the subject line “Good riddance.”

It was not clear whether the switch will matter much for the congressional agenda this year. Mr. Specter said he won’t reflexively vote in line with the Democratic Party, and he listed one of President Obama’s nominees and a union-backed bill as two issued on which he will still oppose the White House.

“On some very partisan issues, it may hurt us,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, though he said there are “a dozen Democrats to the right of Specter as it was.”

“I’m not sure it’s going to be a net negative at the end of the day,” he said.

Mr. Specter, 79, said he decided to leave the Republican Party this weekend after internal poll results showed Friday that he had no chance of re-election as a Republican.

Public polls in Pennsylvania showed him trailing badly to Pat Toomey in the Republican primary next year. Mr. Specter barely beat Mr. Toomey in a 2004 primary.

Mr. Specter’s approval rating among Democrats is 71 percent, and strategists and pollsters said the senator is simply following his supporters.

“When he found out he wasn’t winning among Republicans, Specter not only took his ball and went home, he joined the other team,” said Pittsburgh-based Republican campaign adviser John Brabender.

While acknowledging that his switch might not change much substantively, Democrats welcomed Mr. Specter’s move as a sign of Republican trouble. Mr. Specter said he has the commitment of Democratic leaders, including Mr. Obama, to support him in next year’s election, though Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, would not go that far.

Story Continues →