After determining that he wasn't willing to allow his 29 years in the Senate to be judged by the "jury" of Pennsylvania Republicans, is it possible that Arlen Specter's jury-shopping could still backfire?
Last week, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell all were ebullient with praise for the newest Democrat in the Senate caucus -- seeing turncoat Republican Specter as the possible 60th vote that might produce significant legislative victories in contentious issues like health care. However, as the days have gone by, something curious has happened.
Yes, the immediate polls taken after the switch suggest that Specter would be the favorite in a general election in Pennsylvania. He'd swamp former conservative Rep. Pat Toomey whose entry into the GOP primary pushed Specter out of the party. On the other hand, he'd have a tougher struggle against former Gov. Tom Ridge, a moderate like Specter.
But more and more Democrats -- especially those in Pennsylvania -- are beginning to wonder whether Specter is really worth it, either short-term or long-term. Sounding like a guy ready to get into the Democratic senate primary, Rep. Joe Sestak declared Sunday that he's "not sure that Specter's a Democrat yet." As a retired admiral who won office in 2006 as a strong opponent of the Iraq War, Sestak, does not suffer fools greatly -- or believe that he should have to wait six years for another shot at the Senate.
Then, on Monday, James Carville -- who consulted on several statewide campaigns in Pennsylvania -- and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean both said that Specter needed to demonstrate that he's a member of his new team. Or else:
"I'm pleased that he saw the light and decided he would be a better fit for the Democratic Party and I think you have to allow for his political views to evolve," said former DNC chairman Howard Dean in an interview with the Huffington Post. "But he won't win the Democratic primary by taking the position that you should not have [the Employee Free Choice Act] or a public option for health insurance... If he takes these kinds of views, of course there is going to be a Democratic primary."
"[Specter] was the least reliable Republican. So he will just switch to become the least reliable Democrat," said the longtime Clinton confidant and author of the upcoming book, "40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation." "I wouldn't try to make much more out of it than the political survivor comes up with one more act in a long running play of political survival... The one thing I will give him is I will give him some points for candor for being so upfront about [his switch]."
"I'm not sure this is going to have a great ending...He could get primaried, you know... If [Rep. Joe] Sestak runs, [Specter] will have to fight."
Specter's problem is that he's been too candid. He's made clear that his reasons for switching are: 1) He couldn't win the GOP primary; 2) the conservative Club For Growth were bullying moderates out of the party. Except for saying that his views "are now more in line with the Democratic Party," he's said very little on exactly what those issues are. Indeed, as Dean noted, on two big issues -- Big Labor's EFCA and health care -- Specters' not planning on changing his position at all.
Democrats may decide that, at 59, Sestak is 20 years younger and a far safer bet going forward than a man whose greatest talent has been proving to his former party that he is untrustworthy.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.