Specter's Failing Political Career

A series of odd incidents that have proceeded from Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's party switch last week have raised questions about whether the newest Democrat has permanently damaged himself in the eyes of the state's voters.

The White House is concerned enough about the developments that deputy chief of staff Jim Messina and Ron Klain, a senior adviser to Vice President Biden, traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday and huddled with Specter to try to iron out the problems, according to informed Democratic officials.

Those problems -- in brief:

• Specter pronounced that he would be keeping his seniority when he announced his party switch last week -- maintaining that his ability to deliver for the state would not be diminished in any way shape or form by his move across the aisle. Except, that wasn't exactly right. The Senate's approval of Specter's junior status on a series of committees led to a "he said, he said" between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and the newest member of his caucus. Asked about the back and forth by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Reid stood his ground saying simply: "He is a person who's been in the Senate since 1980. I think he should be able to handle himself."

A sign the democrats don't want him? No, they want the numbers of course. A sign they don't respect him? Certainly. No one likes a turn coat, not even the side they turn to. I think there is always that stigma attached of being a traitor, or someone you can't count on.

• In a sitdown with the New York Times' Deborah Solomon, Specter said he was hoping that the Minnesota courts would do "justice" and declare former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman the winner in the contested 2008 election. Whoops! Specter tried to walk the comment back told Reid that he briefly "forgot what team I was on."

His true feelings? A Biden type gaffe? Hard to speculate. I would hope, though I don't count on it, that the comment reflects his true feelings.

• Specter has done little to back off his initial assertion that his decision to switch parties was based almost entirely on political calculations and had little to do with ideology. While most party switchers are almost certainly guided by personal political concerns (what politician isn't?), most don't come right out and say it because it is a turnoff for voters who want to believe that their politicians believe in, well, something.

I don't find this particularly disturbing. Politics was the reason he switched, and he has been truthful about that. I think attempts to say otherwise are pretty transparent, and would only hurt him further.

For Pennsylvania voters -- especially Democratic primary voters -- this triptych of recent events is likely to be deeply troubling.

"His actions over this past week have done nothing to curry favors with either party," said Penny Lee, a former senior adviser to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and now a Democratic consultant. "He needs to show some willingness to be a Democrat."

Another Democratic strategist who follows Senate races closely was more blunt about the damage Specter has done to himself over the last week. "Do you think that any right-minded local Democratic elected official is going to stick his neck out for Arlen?" the source asked rhetorically. "Or any member of the Democratic Senate caucus?"

Even those Democrats who believe that Specter has done himself no real long-term electoral harm with his actions over the past week don't exactly give him rave reviews. "The pride swallowing can't be easy but he had no choice if he wants to get reelected, and he was honest about that," said one senior Democratic strategist.

Here is to hoping he is replaced by a true republican the next time he is up for reelection.

Source: Washington Post


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