Sept. 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Specter Finds Comfort Zone

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Arlen Specter, seen at a memorial service for the late Rep. John Murtha, has fit in comfortably with his new colleagues in the Democratic caucus and has kept friends on the GOP side.

Arlen Specter is home. And he’s comfortable.

Nearly one year after Pennsylvania’s senior Senator left the Republican Party and became a Democrat, the move makes so much sense to his colleagues on Capitol Hill — both Republican and Democrat — that no one seems to remember what the uproar was all about.

Specter, 80 and winding down his fifth Senate term, announced plans to switch parties on April 28. The move had broad political implications in Pennsylvania, where Specter is running for re-election. In the Senate, Specter’s change of allegiances delivered to the GOP what was at the time yet another body blow, while providing the Democrats with a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority.

But the dust settled rather quickly — at least in Washington, D.C. — and it was as if Specter’s 40 years in the Republican Party were an error of circumstance that was belatedly rectified.

“I think Arlen is more comfortable on the Democrat side. But he’s doing fine. We’re really good friends. If I interpreted right, he’s more comfortable,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been close with Specter since he arrived in the Senate in 1981 and has served on the Judiciary Committee with him for years. “Arlen is not a conservative anyway. He’s more of a moderate liberal, and was that as a Republican. But he’s a good person, and I have a high regard for him.”

“Comfortable” is the word Specter used Thursday to describe his time as a member of the Democratic Conference. In fact, while his positions on social and some legal issues often put him at odds with his Conference when he was a Republican, as a Democrat Specter has been one of Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) most reliable and loyal votes.

Still, as Specter made abundantly clear last April, his departure from the GOP was a political decision that had less to do with philosophical comfort than with his prospects for winning a sixth term. At the time, the Senator’s internal polling showed he would lose a GOP primary rematch with former Rep. Pat Toomey, and Specter said he was unwilling to allow Pennsylvania Republicans to have the final say on his Senate career.

Specter’s party switch enabled him to avoid a primary against Toomey, whom he only very narrowly defeated in 2004 after receiving high-profile assistance from President George W. Bush and then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). But after receiving an endorsement for re-election from his new party leader, President Barack Obama, Specter ended up smack in the middle of a potentially competitive Democratic primary.

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