by Matt L. Barron
When Al Franken finally takes his seat later this year, Democrats will have reached the magic total of 60 votes in their caucus with the move across the aisle by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Talk about Christmas in April for Harry Reid. Sing it out loud and proud.
Cloture, baby, cloture!
Specter is a wily pol who can sense the political winds with the best of them. As one of the last Gypsy Moth Republicans as GOPers from the moderate northeast were known, he was increasingly made to feel unwelcome in his former party, taken over by hard right social conservatives from the sunbelt.
Add to that, the Keystone State has shifted more and more blue over the last several election cycles. In 2006,voters booted Rick Santorum replacing him in the Senate with Bob Casey and the Dems picked up four House seats (PA-4, PA-7, PA-8 and PA-10) with Blue Dog centrists. Last year, as Obama carried the commonwealth, Dems added another House seat with Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper in the northwest corner around Erie (PA-3).
In vying to win his sixth term, Specter was looking at a GOP primary re-match from 2004 with ex-Rep. Pat Toomey, a right-wingers dream and Club for Growth supported candidate, who wanted to take a club to Specter’s 30 years in the upper chamber. Specter’s recent reversal on supporting the Employee Free Choice Act was not well received by organized labor who continues to swing a big bat in the state.
Specter is not out of the woods by any stretch. A March 2009 Quinnipiac poll found his favorability ratings were the worst in the counties of central PA known as the “T” which are heavily rural. And as the banking scandals continue to ripen, Specter will have to answer for his votes to de-regulate the financial services industry over the last decade.
But as Specter knows from his days in the Reagan revolution, life is better in the majority and in addition to more friendly back slaps in the Democratic cloakroom, he will find more invites to the White House as his vote will be used to cement more bricks in the Obama agenda. A chance to get things done for a better lot in America’s life — not a shabby reason to switch.