Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s announcement that he will run for re-election next year as a Democrat, abandoning the Republican label he has borne since he first won election to the Senate in 1980, immediately got people in Washington talking about a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. Specter and Al Franken, the odds-on favorite to win Minnesota’s disputed Senate race, would give Democrats 60 votes — enough to prevent the GOP from procedurally blocking legislation.
On paper, anyway. Yet Specter warned he will not be a reliable 60th vote for Democrats. In fact, the party switch looks like a pragmatic move by a veteran pol who knew his chances of winning a Republican primary in Pennsylvania were “bleak.” Specter had to make the move or likely see his Senate career ended next year by former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, because Pennsylvania has a “sore loser” law that bars someone who loses a primary election from running in the general election as an independent.
So, instead of being a headache for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who often worried the Pennsylvanian would stray on key votes, Specter becomes Majority Leader Harry Reid’s concern. It’s a real one. Specter said he won’t change his views on key issues because he changed parties. He cited his opposition to “card check” legislation coveted by Democrats as an example.
For years Specter was viewed with suspicion by Republicans because of his moderate-to-liberal positions. He was called a “RINO” — Republican in name only. Now Democrats may well be exasperated by his independence. If so, maybe they’ll refer to Arlen Specter as a “DINO” — Democrat in name only.