In a stunning piece of political theater with dramatic consequences for clean energy, global warming, and the entire progressive agenda, the Washington Post has just reported:
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.
Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)
Needless to say, as a Republican facing a tough primary challenge from the right, he was a lost vote on global warming legislation. One assumes that if he is going to seriously run as a Democrat, he’ll support an energy and climate bill.
“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”
He added: “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.”
Specter as a Democrat would also fundamentally alter the 2010 calculus in Pennsylvania as he was expected to face a difficult primary challenge next year from former Rep. Pat Toomey. The only announced Democrat in the race is former National Constitution Center head Joe Torsella although several other candidates are looking at the race.
The precariousness of Specter’s political position — a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state — was on display earlier this year when he was one of three GOP Senators to back President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan. That vote was strongly condemned by conservative Republicans and Toomey used that vote as the launching pad for his candidacy.
Because of the shrinking Republican vote in the state, Specter was seen as a dead man walking politically in the primary with polling showing him trailing Toomey by ten or more points. The bar for Specter to run as an independent was also extremely high due to the rules governing such a third party candidacy.
That left a Democratic candidacy as Specter’s best option if he wanted to remain in the Senate beyond 2010.
Kudos to Specter for this move, combining political opportunism with political idealism.
And what a powerful message it should send to all moderates and independents that the death grip the right wing has on the GOP is the road to a permanent minority.