The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


Dan Balz's Take

Specter Isn't Sitting Too Pretty These Days

Updated 2:13 p.m.
By Dan Balz
Pity Arlen Specter. A week ago he was standing in the White House, a newly minted Democrat, the toast of the town (or at least the portion controlled by the Democrats). President Obama promised to watch his back. Vice President Biden swore he'd do the same.

Today he looks like just another embattled politician still worried about reelection. His former party is glad to be rid of him. His new party has put him through the equivalent of ritual hazing. And having ducked a Republican primary, he may yet have to weather a Democratic primary challenge and then a tough general election.

There is a certain justice in all of this. For years Specter has driven his minders mad. Independent barely describes his modus operandi. Predictably unpredictable might be the better description. Specter has intellect and experience, but a team player he is not.

Democrats knew all this when the switch was in the works, but in case some forgot, Specter has gone out of his way to remind them. On NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday, he declared that he would not march in lockstep with his new party. "I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat," he told host David Gregory. "I did not say that."

Specter added to his woes with an unfortunate comment to the New York Times this week. Asked whether he was concerned by the absence of Jewish Republicans in the Senate, he said, "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

It turns out that Specter switched parties at a moment of weakness, not a moment of strength. He was welcomed by the White House and by Senate Democratic leaders but he was not in a position to extract much in return. He did not, for example, demand that the Democrats clear the field for him in the primary, though Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has been trying to pull some strings to make that happen.

Nor was Specter able to extract assurances that he would have prime positions on Senate committees. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has pledged to do everything he can to help Specter, but there was plenty of pushback from rank-and-file Democrats in the Senate when the Specter news broke. At this point, Specter is the junior Democratic member on his committee assignments. For example, he's gone from ranking Republican to lowliest Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Reid made it possible, through a Senate resolution, for Specter to join the Environment and Public Works Committee, which he had requested. But eight years ago, Reid voluntarily stepped aside when Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party and joined the Democratic caucus. Jeffords was given the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Reid was in line to run. There were no similar moves by other Senate Democrats this time to make way for Specter, which is telling.

Specter's switch was all about personal survival. He was explicit in saying that a bad poll, showing he was likely to lose a Republican primary against former representative Pat Toomey, a Club for Growth conservative, prompted him to switch. He didn't want his career to be judged by the GOP primary electorate, he famously declared.

But are Pennsylvania Democrats willing to make him their nominee no matter what he says and does as a member of their party? In what ways is Specter willing to make accommodations to show some allegiance to the Democrats? So far, the record is thin.

Specter noted that shortly after seeing Obama at the White House he voted against the president's budget because he objected to the provision that would allow Democrats to pass a health care package with 51 votes. That approach, he said, could undermine a basic tenet of Senate procedure for enacting major legislation.

Democrats should hope that Specter will be a reliable vote for health care reform. But he has ideas of his own: Recall his high-profile role in helping to sink Bill and Hillary Clinton's plan in 1994. It was Specter who came up with the Rube Goldberg chart depicting the Clinton plan as a maze of government control. He said last week that he opposes the inclusion of a government run insurance plan as part of health care reform, which is a key provision to liberal Democrats.

What role will Specter choose to play on health care? Certainly he will have his own ideas, but if he plays hard-to-get, if he is a reluctant vote, if he holds out indefinitely as he has sometimes done in the past, then he will not endear himself to members of his new party. That could make him more vulnerable.

Democrats are looking for some sign that Specter recognizes that he needs to make an affirmative statement on some issue important to them. Health care. Torture. A court nominee. But that has rarely been in Specter's DNA. He has operated so long at the midpoint of the ideological spectrum in the Senate, applying his brain power to difficult issues, weighing his options, then--finally--acting. He is not a party boy.

His state has shifted beneath him since he last ran for reelection. He narrowly survived the 2002 primary against Toomey, though then won easily in the general election. In the last year or so, 200,000 Republicans re-registered as Democrats. Specter no doubt assumes they are like he is, voters who wearied of the rightward drift of the national party. He must assume they would be certain to support him as a Democratic nominee next year.

But there is also, in Pennsylvania as elsewhere, an energetic Democratic base enamored of the president and anxious for elected officials to demonstrate their loyalty to the administration's agenda. Would they support Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in the primary, if he chose to challenge Specter? Perhaps.

The other worry for Specter is the talk that former Republican governor Tom Ridge is now looking into running for the Senate. Ridge was a popular governor from the party's moderate wing. If he emerged as the Republican nominee against Democrat Specter, the race would start without a clear favorite. In that case, however, Specter's age could work against him. He is 79 and has battled cancer. Voters might decide it's time for a change.

Specter isn't likely to change his habits. But if political survival was the principal reason he left the Republican Party, he may be expected to make further accommodations to show that becoming a Democrats means something more to him than a label on a ballot.

Posted at 1:04 PM ET on May 6, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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I don't live in Pennsylvania, but if I did,I would be ordering my Systek T-Shirt now to avoid the rush. Is there a lemon law in PA? Democrats should send this creep back now.

Posted by: makeitwright | May 7, 2009 7:01 PM

Here comes Joe Sestak! Democrats in PA (I am one) have in recent years voted for Sen. Specter because he was the best alternative at the time, he had been an advocate for Pennsylvania, and he had accumulated considerable seniority (power and pork!).

Now, Sen. Specter may not be the best alternative. (Repeat: Here comes Joe Sestak!) Now, Senator Specter is a turncoat. (PA voters don't like turncoats, even if it is to their own party.) Now, he has lost his seniority because of his arrogance. (What's his advantage?)

I wonder what he knew about the torture issue? (Senate Judiciary Committee oversight of Bush Justice Dept...see.) That investigation may be a good place for his Democratic opponent to begin the groundwork for his/her race against Sen.Specter.

Posted by: dianeelaw | May 7, 2009 5:14 PM

I have to say, I have to respect a man for voting his conscience, even if it is not aligned with his party, OR my own ideas. It is always at the risk of scorn from those who covet one's support.

My guess is, that Arlen Specter feels strongly enough about what he believes in, that he feels he needs to make what moves are necessary, to ensure that he has the power to exact what influence he can in our nations policies.

Somehow it just doesn't add up for me that this is personally motivated. What 79 y/o, would want to take on another 6 years of intense public service, were it not for his ideals?

Posted by: lindutch | May 7, 2009 4:06 PM

Mr. Spector was a detriment as a Republican .. what made him think he would be a better democrat?

He is one of those customers you hope goes to your competition. He will do you more good, damaging your competitor, than doing business with you. So, carry on Mr. Spector, you are your own worst enemy, and a blessing to the GOP. ssj.

Posted by: ssjackson | May 7, 2009 9:46 AM

when the dems need his vote, watch spector vote nay...
that will be his revenge and the dems will deserve it...
having spector join the dems does no good if he doesn't vote with them and if the dems need his vote, well, too bad...

Posted by: DwightCollins | May 7, 2009 6:03 AM

Today he looks like just another embattled politician still worried about reelection.

No, today he looks exactly like what he is - a scumbag, lying politician who is getting what he deserves.

He bent over for the left and got what the right hoped he would.

Now he acts like the 17 year old cheerleader who put out for the team hero and is crushed because he won't return her calls.

Poor little Arlen. It may be a good idea for him to start lining up some work for after Novemeber.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | May 7, 2009 5:36 AM

It's nice to see Specter get kicked around a little bit.....Go to the end of the line Arlen!!!!!!

Posted by: charko825 | May 7, 2009 4:54 AM

this guy is a disgrace

Posted by: pofinpa | May 7, 2009 4:24 AM

Specter's loyalty is neither to Republicans nor Democrats. Or his constituents. His only loyalty is to himself. He is a contemptible, despicable little man.

Posted by: nicekid | May 7, 2009 3:29 AM

In Pa democrats have consistently voted Specter in office. His party membership has never been a factor.I'll vote for him because he has rendered stellar service to our state. He's no one to push around either the most politically active unions in the state has his back, among others. I'll go out on the limb and say he is the most powerful political figure in the state. "Fast Eddie" Rendell is played out. He came to his job as governor on the back of the late Lt governor Catherine Baker Knoll.(Blue Dog)At the end of this term I think he'll collect his “casino chips” and wade back into that cesspool in Philly. The late Catherine Baker Knoll once referred to him as Edward G Robinson. I wish Specter had run as a independent which is his true party affiliation.

BTW I'm from Philly.

Posted by: marcus123 | May 7, 2009 3:15 AM

I think that xclntcat has it right:

"Senator Spector like many in the Senate is evidencing signs of age-related cognitive decline."

I spend considerable time with an elderly parent with moderate Alzheimer's disease. Some of Specter's "slips" and obvious confusion this past week remind me of my elderly relative's decline.

Posted by: spbphil | May 7, 2009 12:17 AM




Posted by: | May 6, 2009 11:36 PM

While my user ID has a couple letters reversed, I believe that Arlen Specter finally corrected the letters next to his name when he replaced the 'r' with a 'd'. Political self-preservation aside, Senator Specter has been one of the key driving forces in securing additional funds for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While Penn and Pitt will undoubtedly benefit from the additional NIH funding that they will compete for MERITORIOUSLY, so too will the American people from an improved quality of life that will come as a result of the advances that will be made through federally-funded medical research. He may not tow the party line, but I do believe that Senator Specter is a thoughtful individual who tries to do what is in the best interests of the nation...even as he does what is in his own political interests. Democrats are the true 'big tent' party and if we can welcome back members like Arlen Specter to the fold without extracting a blood oath in the process, we will be better off.

Posted by: higheredadvoacte | May 6, 2009 11:26 PM

Republicans voters are proud to be stupid bigots. I don't want to hear about this or that Republican with smart certificates. A few exceptions, that's all.

Democrats are a mess, they lie about how much they care, they are smug, they hide their inability to know what is right by talking about "progressive".

Corruption is the common denominator.

Posted by: shrink2 | May 6, 2009 10:59 PM

At this point, who cares. He has no philosophy of government.

I don't respect any politician who says anything just to get elected. And that's what this move is from republican to democrat... he wants to keep his seat. It's not about disagreeing with the party, it's about keeping that great job he has.

What do you call someone who will do anything for money? Well, Arlen, look in the mirror. Hope you enjoy the view.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | May 6, 2009 9:57 PM

Cyros, while I was enjoying my tax cut you were probably out getting tea-bagged.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 8:13 PM

So Cyros, where are the tax increases?, are you referring to the giant tax cuts that are set to expire in 2011? Did you not like Ronald Reagan's tax code?

How about you stop projecting the GOPs failures on the current administration and then we can have a rational discussion.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 8:09 PM

Senator Spector is a man witout a party. The GOP seems happy to be rid of him since he is not a true party hack. The Democrats wanted him in the fold without accepting his seniority for his years of service as a Senator from Pennslyvannia. Neither party seems to have room for moderates or those who will work across the isle on a regular basis. One reason that Congress is held in such low esteem is that most of us who work in the real world (a world without lobbyists, Congressional perks and fundraisers) can not relate to this idiotic behavior by the party in power. This just serves to alienate the average voter.

Posted by: Frankel | May 6, 2009 6:42 PM

Here are the pure reasons republicans have lost all battles and pretty soon war, if they don't place real listeners in their party;
- Abortion
- Gun (F)laws
- Stubbornes
- Mocking of liberals
- Labeling Democratic party
- Zero tolerance diplomacy (?)

Most of Americans recognized themselves with democrats on these liberal issues, and yet whole republican party has been mocking these same people that used to recognize themselves as republicans.

Every ellection, republican candidate is against abortion but yet, nobody even tries to overthrow it, or same is with gun laws. Forget about "TAX CUTS", people are not stupid, they know they have to pay for those same cuts, one way or another. Its the issues that affect their lives and republicans don't do anything about those issues, actualy they just ignore those issues; OR THEY HAVE BEEN IGNORING SAME PEOPLE THAT VOTED FOR THEM TO TAKE CARE OF THE ISSUES.

Obama has gave people (former republicans) that issue solving case, AND GOOD CHANGE, AS LONG THEY VOTE FOR HIM, AND HE MADE IT.

Posted by: BOBSTERII | May 6, 2009 4:40 PM

JRM2 I know you'll never look since you're a blind idealist who is afraid of facts that contradict naive ideals, but sites like are a much more balanced view of tax policy than say editorials from the Huffington Post.

Posted by: Cryos | May 6, 2009 4:10 PM

"Follow the Constitution Don't rape the taxpayers any more obama, reid and peloski.

Posted by: bobojake "
Ummm, Obama just gave 95% of Americans the biggest tax cut in over 40 years and have not raised any taxes, what's your problem?

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 3:31 PM
Sigh more propaganda peddlers. It was not the biggest tax cut for many people. For example the Bush tax cuts were much larger for many WORKING people.

Also don't forget it only lasts until the end of next year. Democrats wrote it out of permanent status to make way for more spending.

Posted by: Cryos | May 6, 2009 4:05 PM

Senator Spector like many in the Senate is evidencing signs of age-related cognitive decline. However, if he refuses to support an agenda backed by the majority that will move the country forward, then we can no longer afford to overlook his deficits and Pennsyvania democrats deserve better representation.

Posted by: xclntcat | May 6, 2009 3:51 PM

"Follow the Constitution Don't rape the taxpayers any more obama, reid and peloski.

Posted by: bobojake "
Ummm, Obama just gave 95% of Americans the biggest tax cut in over 40 years and have not raised any taxes, what's your problem?

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 3:31 PM

"Oh and good luck trying to get Specter to vote with Democrats now.

Posted by: RJ14 |"
He supposedly defected because he found that democrats ideals were more in line with his yet he votes 100% with the party of no. Then makes an asinine statement to the NY TImes about how Coleman should be seated, what did he expect, flowers?

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 3:25 PM

Poor Arlen Specter.

Posted by: KYJurisDoctor | May 6, 2009 3:03 PM

Lets face it, the best thing he could do is resign. He's not in good health and could use the rest. And he could go out with some dignity. He has already lost HIS party, and his seniority, and this whole democratic switch looks shamelessly self-serving and may end in humiliating defeat. Good Night, arlen.

Posted by: photty1 | May 6, 2009 2:49 PM

This was an incredibly stupid move by the Democrats. It serves a message to all moderate republicans that peace is not possible with Democrats. They may not like republicans but G_d help them if they try to find a home on the other side of the isle.

Oh and good luck trying to get Specter to vote with Democrats now.

Posted by: RJ14 | May 6, 2009 2:44 PM

Our boat is not sinking. Watch out Dems; now that you've got Arlen in yours, it is your boat which is going to sink. Thank heavens, he is out. He should have done it much earlier. He will lose the seat come next election.

Posted by: ntcmjohn | May 6, 2009 2:29 PM

It sounds like this writer doesn't want a senator, he wants a mime, a "yes" man that will say and do whatever he is told to by the powers that be. What a desire to have; to have a fool at your beckon call to entertain the court. This writer doesn't want a real man, a thinking man that follows his conscience, he wants a servant, a rubber stamp, someone to get his coffee, perhaps. That is not democracy, my friend, that is the reason for the Boston tea party, and that is the reason heads were rolling during the French revolution. Be careful what you wish for. Running roughshod over almost half the nations voters could be a bad call.

Posted by: davideconnollyjr | May 6, 2009 2:27 PM

We all get our just desserts. Spector is getting his.

Posted by: BubbaRight | May 6, 2009 2:19 PM

bobojake wrote, "I knew reid was a liar and incompetent. Now we have reid, peloski and obama competing for the biggest incompetent LIAR in the Nation.
Stop these Madmen now bfore they get us hardworking middle class taxpayers killed."
Question: what article were you reading?
Just curious.
I guess you could write that comment to every article in the universe and be just as correct as you are with this submission.
Kind of like a broken analog clock that is right twice a day.
It's good to have consistency...even if it's hateful consistency.

Posted by: anetgroup | May 6, 2009 2:16 PM

he's a pretty nasty sort of old coot; it's hard to generate any sympathy for him

as to the dems, they're experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse. they'd have been better off if he lost the GOP primary to some yahoo reactionary, at which point they'd get a young, articulate, and loyal dem in his place.

Posted by: charlesjacksonnyc | May 6, 2009 2:15 PM

He was a creepy GOP, now he's a creepy Dem.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 6, 2009 2:15 PM

Dan Balz wrote, "His former party is glad to be rid of him."
Not so fast...
Some Republicans are thrilled, in the way that cutting off your nose to spite your face is thrilling...until you look in the mirror...however it is very idealistically stimulating.
With Norm Coleman's challenge to MN winner Al Franken the only block to a 60 vote Democratic Senate, "glad" won't stoke the viability furnace like majority did. Things have a tendency to wax and wane...but this is wax off, not wax on.

Posted by: anetgroup | May 6, 2009 2:08 PM

Goodbye Senator Spincter, we'll miss you just about like we miss having a hemoroid! Either way you are now a democratic pain in the arse now.

Posted by: JayBird4 | May 6, 2009 2:07 PM

I knew reid was a liar and incompetent. Now we have reid, peloski and obama competing for the biggest incompetent LIAR in the Nation.
Stop these Madmen now bfore they get us hardworking middle class taxpayers killed.
Throw out any Senator or Congressman that has been in office for 20 years or more. they have had the good ol boys club in the Gym and WE ARE TIRED OF IT.

Follow the Constitution Don't rape the taxpayers any more obama, reid and peloski.

Posted by: bobojake | May 6, 2009 2:01 PM

odds are he would not survive another six year term .what will he be on election day 80 plus almost 81. does he need it that bad does pa or the usa need all these old fossils?

Posted by: donaldtucker | May 6, 2009 1:54 PM

Smart enough to abandon a sinking ship, but still a rat.

Posted by: ElMugroso | May 6, 2009 1:53 PM


Go replay that film, "Enemy of the State." It is time to again save the nation.

And I will bet you that local law enforcement, which is waking up and smelling the coffee, will be right there with you.

The "intelligence-based policing" tactic sold them some bad intel -- draining their resources, distracting them from their primary mission, and making "the locals" unwitting accomplices in the destruction of many thousands of unjustly targeted citizens and their families.

-- from comments section, "Gestapo USA," by Vic Livingston

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 6, 2009 1:45 PM

Arlen Specter is a perfect example of what JRM refers to as a "Democrat In Name Only", aka DINO. The only reason he voted for the Stimulus was because it will bring a lot of NIH grants to the Pittsburgh area. He will vote against the budget, against health care, against unions, against investigations...he will not vote for me so I will not vote for him.

Posted by: DCX2 | May 6, 2009 1:44 PM

He voted 100% with the GOPity since becoming a DINO. Maybe one vote along party lines would have helped.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 6, 2009 1:40 PM

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