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."
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