- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter’s desertion to the Democrats is the latest body blow for Republicans reeling from severe back-to-back election losses as they struggle to find an appealing political message to rebuild the Republicans’ badly bruised brand.

With Republican forces sharply reduced in the House and Senate and the likelihood of increasing Senate losses next year, Mr. Specter’s decision to jump ship - though moderates say he was driven from the party - only served to further feed the image of a party in steep decline.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker’s decision to leave the Republican Party in an attempt to save his Senate seat in a heavily Democratic state was welcome news to conservatives critical of liberal to moderate “Republicans in name only.”

“Senator Specter has confirmed what we already knew - he’s a liberal devoted to more spending, more bailouts, and less economic freedom. Thanks to him, Democrats will now be able to steamroll their big government agenda through the Senate,” said the conservative Club for Growth, which had targeted him for defeat in next year’s primaries.

Social conservatives, in particular, cheered his exit from the party - denouncing his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

“If it looks like a donkey, quacks like a donkey and votes like a donkey - then it is probably a donkey,” said Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the Family Research Council.

But moderate Republicans said Mr. Specter’s move represents another tear in the party’s tattered “big tent” that was once broadly inhabited by conservatives, centrists and liberals but has become much more uniformly conservative.

“The Club for Growth just put another scalp on their mantel. The problem is the more scalps they put on the mantel, the more Democratic members of Congress continue to rise,” said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership and a party moderate.

“Do Republicans want to become a coalition that wins elections or do they want to become a private club with admissions tests? We are becoming a white Southern party in a country where the fastest-growing voter groups are Hispanics and young people,” Mr. Davis said Tuesday upon hearing of Mr. Specter’s decision.

Other Republican leaders echoed Mr. Davis’ sentiments as word spread across Capitol Hill that the Democrats had added another seat in the Senate in their bid to build a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. And the angry tone of their remarks seemed to suggest that a bitter schism was developing within their party.

“I don’t want to be a member of the Club for Growth. I want to be a member of a vibrant national Republican Party that can attract people from all corners of the country,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Politico Web site, www.politico.com. “As Republicans, we got a problem.”

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of the few party moderates left in the Senate, told Politico that the Republicans’ message was: “Either you’re with us or you’re against us.”

Mr. Davis said the loss of moderates in the party ranks throughout the Northeast, Midwest and parts of the West had largely turned those states into Republican wastelands that now regularly fall into the Democrats’ electoral column in presidential elections.

There are now 18 states that the Democrats have carried in five straight presidential elections, assuring them of 238 electoral votes, once the District of Columbia is added.

“The Senate lineup in those states is 34 Democrats and two Republicans in Maine, Senators Snowe and Susan Collins, and they are the moderates that people would like to drive out of the party. How are you supposed to build a majority if you concede those states? That’s the fundamental problem,” Mr. Davis said.

“I just think right now we are spinning down hill,” he said.

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