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House GOP Moderates Dismayed by Specter Move, But Won't Follow Suit

By Ben Pershing

House Republican moderates call themselves the "Tuesday Group" because of their meeting schedule, and so it was that the dwindling band happened to get together for their weekly gathering yesterday at noon, at the exact moment a fellow centrist, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), was announcing his defection from the GOP to become a Democrat.

What was the reaction to the news inside the room?

"Generally it's a mixed bag," said Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) a leader among House GOP moderates. "There are people who feel it's treasonous to change political parties. ... It's very self-serving."

"It wasn't a shock," said Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), who also attended the moderates' meeting. "I think most people look at it for what it is -- survivability by Specter."

Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) agreed, saying that most of his fellow centrists "think this is more about Arlen Specter's political survival than about the reality of being a Republican today."

But even if Specter's move was based strictly on political survival -- his state is moving to the left, and he faces a primary challenge from the right -- aren't there some House GOP centrists in the same boat? The decline of Republican moderates in the chamber has been much-chronicled, as the party's centrist bloc has been decimated by retirements and electoral defeats in recent cycles. In both Michigan and Maryland last year, moderate GOP incumbents lost to conservative primary challengers who were backed by the Club for Growth (which has also backed Pat Toomey's campaign against Specter) and then went on to lose to Democrats in the general election.

Given that reality, and what Castle derisively called "the purification of the Republican party," might some of the remaining House Republican moderates decide to follow Specter's lead?

"I know most of the moderates pretty well, and I can't think of one who's going to switch parties," Castle said.

Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.), another veteran centrist, took the same view. "I don't think there are any House Republicans who are going to switch," he said.

One House Republican who has been approached by Democrats in recent years is Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), who has become well-known for his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I had certain members talk to me, saying, 'Would you consider it?'" Jones said, naming Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) as one of those who approached him. But Jones, who is conservative on most issues, said he had no interest in making a switch.

It may just be that most or all of the House Republicans most likely to consider a switch have already left the chamber in recent years And House Democrats have less incentive that their Senate counterparts do to go courting across the aisle. While every vote is crucially important in the Senate, Democrats in the House have full control of the chamber and a comfortably large majority. Though they would surely welcome party-switchers, Democrats feel no need to dangle anything like a committee chairmanship in order to entice Republicans to flip.

Even if House GOP moderates aren't planning to switch, they do hope their leaders learn the proper lessons from Specter's move. Centrist Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said he thought Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) New York Times op-ed today "was pretty telling." In it, Snowe warned her fellow Republicans that "Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities."

Upton said he was going to make sure his colleagues saw Snowe's piece, particularly those who have suggested losing Specter was no big deal because he wasn't conservative anyway.

"It hurts us big-time for the D's to get 60 in the Senate, and that's what they just did," Upton said. "You can't put lipstick on a pig."

By Ben Pershing  |  April 29, 2009; 3:24 PM ET
Categories:  GOP Leaders , House  
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I think that Castle may have used the wrong term - it would seem that centrist Republicans aren't being "purified" they are being excommunicated.

Posted by: perfgeek | April 29, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I think the next most possible defection would be Snowe or Collins.

Posted by: MTgrassland | April 29, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

perfgeek - Castle is discussing the purification of the party, not the purification/excommunication of particular members.

Posted by: to426 | April 29, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

GOP moderates dismayed?

Both of them, eh?

Posted by: nodebris | April 29, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

"In both Michigan and Maryland last year, moderate GOP incumbents lost to conservative primary challengers who were backed by the Club for Growth (which has also backed Pat Toomey's campaign against Specter) and then went on to lose to Democrats in the general election."

That's not exactly correct. Tim Walberg, Michigan's right-wing poster child, actually beat Joe Schwarz in the 2006 primary, not "last year". Walberg served a two year term and was knocked off in 2008 by Mark Schauer.

The seat was probably out of Democratic reach as long as Schwarz held it, but Walberg's ideological purity, combined with Obama at the top of the ticket, put the seat in play. It appears Walberg is preparing to run again, which is a great relief to Michigan Democrats, since CD7 is still fairly difficult territory for Dems, especially in a non-presidential year.

The Club has a lot of admirers here in Michigan - although not mainly among Republicans.

Posted by: MarkGrebner | April 29, 2009 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Republicans who say Specter is a shameless opportunist are undoubtedly right.

He did it to save his career, no doubt about it. He's just a rat leaving a sinking ship.

That doesn't change the fact that the Republican ship IS sinking.

Look! I think I see two ladies from Maine standing on the gunwhale, preparing to jump.

Posted by: kenonwenu | April 30, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

The extremists in the Republican party have ganged up against moderates and told them to vote their way or hit the road. Specter hit the road. Good for him! It's too bad most moderates don't have the backbones to stand-up and vote against those extremists.

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | April 30, 2009 1:04 AM | Report abuse

I saw the news on Tuesday around 1pm or so, P.S.T. After 24 hrs., my feelings are a bit more nuanced. I have always thought Sen. Specter played a subtle game of hard right obstructionism, appearing to be, at times, collegial.

Here's a thought or 2 for you, Arlen. Your 2nd switch, oh yeah, a Dem back in the mid-'60s, entails a bit more than a courting by Joe Biden, followed by a press release.

From Ronnie Raygun in '80, & for the last 28 years, your party has torn down American labor & it's hard working men & women (I've never been in a union, btw, in 60 years) every chance you've had.

This is just one issue. You have switched for political expediency, ok. However, you'ld better go back & examine your antiquated GOP dogma, ON EVERYTHING!

We lifelong Democrats detest Joe Liberman, & if you change your affiliation, you would be well advised to hew to the basic, bedrock ideals of the Democratic Party, & our agenda to move America forward.

I'm sure you deem yourself a great statesman (I won't have my 29 yr record yadda, yadda), but you should take a moment of reflection, if you're capable, about what this means. You now have the possibility of becoming crucial & critical, as opposed to being just a political opportunist, espousing your same old tired GOP drivel. Reflect, then decide.

Posted by: 2by2 | April 30, 2009 1:53 AM | Report abuse

speak for yourself, 2by2.

Posted by: swatkins1 | April 30, 2009 1:59 AM | Report abuse

Hey! Hey! Congressman Upton mentioned Olympia Snowe and said the words "you can't put lipstick on a pig." Senator McCain? Governor Palin? Entire conservative commentariat? Where's the outrage??? I thought it was the Republicans who were feminists, and the Democrats who were anti-woman!!

(sorry, just a brief Campaign '08 flashback...)

Posted by: jonfromcali | April 30, 2009 2:15 AM | Report abuse

The GOP is no longer a political party. It is now a religious cult. Anyone who doesn't mind their P's & Q's is shown the door. In essence, they are turned out and shunned.

For those of us who look forward to future GOP conventions being held at an Applebees, it's a marvelous development.

What's great is hearing former sane (circa 2000) GOP members such as Lindsay Graham now singing the blues, never once accepting responsibility for having rubber-stamped anything and everything the Bush Crime Family did.

Graham believes the GOP collapse is due to the intolerant, not the enablers such as Graham that never spoke up when it would have mattered.

Now they have many theories as to their collapse, none involving any personal responsibility. Which is why it will probably take three lost Presidential elections before they realize the Limbaugh-Boehner-Hannity-Beck-Coulter-Bachmann-King wing of the party is destroying them.

Leave, Specter, they said, and now are advising "take John McCain and his daughter with you". The Dems couldn't buy this kind of corrosive subversion.

Every Democrat should send the Club For Growth a check tomorrow. They are the equivalent of weed killer to sensible Republicans.

No one ever called the GOP fast learners. 2000-2008 was living proof of that.

Posted by: filmex | April 30, 2009 3:11 AM | Report abuse

As a moderate Democrat who has traditionally had respect for moderate Republicans, I now say "switch or die."

Over the last decade or so, moderate Republicans have proven themselves to be utterly useless. They espouse nice positions on issues but then vote for a right-wing House leadership and thus ensure that none of their nice, moderate positions ever receive so much as a committee hearing.

Since they so obviously have zero influence in their party, they merely become hapless enablers of right-wing ideologues.

Posted by: uh_huhh | April 30, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

The Republican Party is a party of hatred and braggadocios. Led by the likes of Fox Entertainment, Hannity and Limbaugh and his “I am better than you because I am college educated and wealthier” lock step ditto heads, this party spews hatred and separation twenty four hours a day.

Moderate Republicans who care more about America then they do about the selfish far right posture of their party have no place to go and I feel for them. Far right leaders of the Republican Party like Newt Gingrich, Sara Palin etc hate the average American because their funds or education level is not high enough for them. If this disparaged party does not correct itself soon it will lose its prestige and power, maybe permanently.

Posted by: jimarush | April 30, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse

2by2 has it right.

Posted by: lindaebrewer1 | April 30, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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