Evan Vucci/AP
Sen. Arlen Specter speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, April 28.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter Switching to Democratic Party

April 28, 2009 04:30 PM
by Liz Colville
Specter, a Republican senator representing Pennsylvania for 29 years, is allegedly making the switch because of poor poll performance for next year's Pennsylvania Republican primary.

Specter's Decision Threatens Republican Minority

Specter, in a statement made this afternoon, said he does not wish to be "judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate," according to Politico. "Specter had been in secret talks with Senate Democratic leaders for months, according to Senate sources," Politico reported, "but his final move to become a Democrat came after a recent poll showed him badly losing a Pennsylvania Republican primary next year."

The Senate Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, called an "emergency meeting" Tuesday afternoon to talk about the switch. The Republicans currently have a 41-vote minority in the Senate.

Specter "has long been a moderate Republican and a thorn in his party's side," Politico writes, but his switch is still "a surprising maneuver."
The move will likely shift more attention to the Minnesota Senate race, in which the Democrat Al Franken was called the winner by a slim 312-vote margin in a recount trial court on April 13. Republican Norm Coleman will appeal the decision in court on June 1, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

If Franken is seated, the Democrats will achieve a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

In today's statement, Specter said, "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

But he insisted following his statement that he is "not an automatic 60th vote," Politico reported.

Some saw Specter's switch as new hope for the Employee Free Choice Act, but the senator said he would vote against on April 24, he said in his statement today that he remains against the act at this juncture. The act aims to amend the National Labor Relations Act and "change the rules governing the formation of unions, the way first contracts between unions and employers are negotiated, and how employees' rights are enforced," according to OpenCongress.

Background: Specter's varied voting record

Recently, Specter has voted with the Democrats on a number of issues. In the U.S. Congress Votes Database on The Washington Post, Specter is shown to have voted with the Democrats on recent legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and a 2007 measure to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

However, on issues including immigration, military spending and troop withdrawal, Specter has recently voted with the GOP, including voting "no" on the 2006 amendment that called for President George W. Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq but set no deadline for doing so. He also sided with the GOP over the Employee Free Choice Act, saying, "The problems of a recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employee's choice legislation." In 2007, he was the sole Senate Republican to vote for cloture of the act, according to The Huffington Post.

Related Topic: Notable politicians who have switched sides

Jesse Helms

Former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, who died in 2008, was a registered Democrat the year before he ran for Senate in 1972, winning and becoming a long-standing Republican senator. His switch was inspired by the Democrats' championing of "the cause of civil rights," the Los Angeles Times reported in an obituary of Helms. He said the party "veered so far to the left nationally." In his career, Helms demonstrated unwavering committment to conservative issues; he was not known for reaching across the aisle.

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan was initially an actor who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the union for professional actors, in Hollywood. He first entered politics as a Democrat before becoming the Republican governor of California in 1967. According to the White House biography of Reagan, he "became embroiled in disputes over the issue of Communism in the film industry" while president of SAG, and his beliefs became more conservative.

Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was inspired to become a Republican by her father, who was denied registration by the Democratic Party in 1952, according to the speech Rice gave at the 2000 Republican National Convention. Rice was a registered Democrat until 1982, having decided around this time that "national interest and the balance of power, not humanitarian principles, should determine U.S. policy," Slate reported in a 2000 profile of Rice.

Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 2008 presidential candidate and former first lady, was a Republican while in college. As The Huffington Post pointed out during the 2008 presidential election, Clinton "was a member of Citizens for Goldwater-Miller," supporting the 1964 presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater and his running mate William E. Miller, and was also president of the Young Republicans at Wellesley College. In contrast to former Sen. Helms, Clinton became a Democrat during the civil rights movement in the late 1960s.

Joseph Lieberman

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut began his Senate career as a Democrat in 1988. He served as running mate to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000. Lieberman then "broke with the Democratic Party over Iraq," CNN wrote in 2007, and ran as an Inpedendent in the 2006 Senate race, winning reelection. He endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain for president in 2007.

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