Nearly one year after Pennsylvanias 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, Specters 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 Specters 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 hes doing fine. Were really good friends. If I interpreted right, hes 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. Hes more of a moderate liberal, and was that as a Republican. But hes 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 Durbins (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 Senators 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.
Specters 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.