Keeping Specter in Perspective

The good news is that Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party means we have to listen to less of this 100 days of Obama rah-rah session.  Before anyone douses the rags in gasoline and sharpens the pitchforks, lets keep this move by Specter in perspective.  To anyone in the area, this move comes as no surprise given the editorial advice and the lobbying by popular, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell.  The political map of Pennsylvania is like that of other states.  Geographically, the state looks red, but when the votes are actually cast, it comes out decidedly blue.  In 2008 election, for example, McCain won 42 of 67 Pennsylvania counties, many by large numbers.  Yet, Obama won the popular vote by over 600,000 votes, or 54-44%.  When you eliminate Philadelphia alone from the equation, the results are quite different.  What should be most disturbing to the Republicans is the gradual erosion of support in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia suburbs and, to a lesser extent, the Scranton area.  Harkening back to the 2008 campaign, McCain erroneously believed that Pennsylvania was in play until the bitter end.  This was a clear waste of time, energy and money.  In fact, counties that reliably voted Republican as of 1992 through the current election were slowly turning blue.

Although Specter has, as the media states, an independent voting streak and does not necessarily tow the Republican line at times, the ire of Republicans in this case stems primarily from his vote on Obama’s porkulus bill.  It might come as a surprise to many to learn that of 18 major Republican-initiated amendments to H.R. 1- the pork bill- Specter voted for 12 of them including the conservatively important amendments, ultimately rejected, to prohibit funds for ACORN and to strike language that would appear discriminatory towards religious groups (DeMint amendment #189 and Vitter amendment #107 respectively).  Having looked at 79 major votes in the current session of the Senate, Specter has voted on the Republican-backed, conservative side 63% of the time.  This would rank him the second least conservative Republican senator (actually tied with Collins) and ahead of only Olympia Snowe.  Most importantly, most of those Republican-sided votes were recent; that is, post HR 1.

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Specter’s decision is motivated by political reality.  It is politics pure and simple and  under the leadership of the triumvirate of Steele, Boehner and McConnell, the Republican Party apparently needs to relearn the art of politics.  Although they should not necessarily emulate the Democrats, look at the case of Ben Nelson of Nebaska.  Of those 79 tracked roll call votes, Nelson has broken ranks with the Democrat/liberal view 58% of the time compared to Specter’s breaking ranks with the Republican/conservative view 36.7% of the time.  Nelson’s rate of defection, if you will, is considerably higher than Specter’s, yet we don’t hear vitriol directed at Nelson.  We don’t see the national leadership mobilizing the liberals of Nebraska to mount a primary challenge against Nelson.  Granted, there may not be many viable liberal candidates in Nebraska which is my point exactly.  In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party is deluding themselves into thinking that Pat Toomey can realistically defeat any Democrat at this point, let alone a defector/incumbent.  Simple electoral demographics would insinuate that the Democrats can run Scooby Doo against Toomey and Scooby Doo would win.  To win statewide office in Pennsylvania, you need the major metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Failing that, you can offset it with at least competitiveness in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  That is not happening with Toomey.  In the case of Nelson, the Democrats realize they have a rarity- a Senator from a very red state.  With Specter, the Republicans had a Senator from (hate to break the news) a very blue state!  Given electoral politics in Pennslvania, Toomey will eventually face off against Specter, but not in a primary but in the more important general election and the results will not be pretty for the Republican Party.  In the 2004 election, Specter won 28% of the vote in Philadelphia alone.  It wasn’t enough to make the difference, but his performance in the suburbs of Montgomery, Bucks, Berks and Chester counties WAS the difference.  McCain lost these counties by an average of 12 percentage points.  And in fact these four counties have shown a steady decline in Republican support since the 1992 election except for Specter’s performance in these counties.  Toomey will not replicate Specter’s achievements in these counties.  In fact, there may be residual damage done here as growing swing counties like Lehigh, Dauphin and Westmoreland may now be permanently tipped towards the Democratic Party.

Many will set forth the argument that what difference does it really make since Specter is a RINO anyway.  Again, lets revert to politics 101.  Wouldn’t it make sense to keep your enemy close and lets assume Specter is an “enemy” for the sake of argument?  Wouldn’t you want to have leverage over him in his appointment to committees and legislation rather than the more amorphous promise that he won’t be the automatic 60th vote as he states now?  In an area of the country, rich in electoral votes, can the Republican Party really afford to alienate a member of your party- RINO or not?  Like the Democrats have to bite the bullet with Nelson of Nebraska, perhaps the Republicans need to learn the art of biting the bullet.  Their mishandling of this situation will come back to bite them in the proverbial ass.  Does anyone really expect Specter to oppose card-check, for example, for very long?  Will he now feel free to vote against conservative judge appointments rather than just occasionally bitching about them and grandstanding for the cameras?

Being from a neighboring state, I am familiar with Arlen Specter’s record.  All in all, I am no great fan of Arlen Specter.  Personally, I believe he is a walking advertisement for Senatorial term limits.  More importantly, I am a Republican voter who does not like the highjacking of the party by the uber-conservative factions that have abandoned economic principles for the sake of conservative social issues.  This has less to do with Specter’s vote on H.R. 1 and more to do with his “moderate” stances on social issues.  Michael Steele’s initial reaction was pure vitriol and yet another example of his lack of leadership in the party.  McConnell and Boehner are not that far behind.  While a Republican poll of likely Republican voters noted that having a check on uncontrolled Democratic power in Washington would strike a potentially winning message in the midterm elections, by allowing Specter to defect- despite your view of his voting record or even his actual vote on occasion- the party’s leadership made that message that more difficult to bring about to fruition.  In 322 votes in 2007, Specter voted with the Republican Party 67.1% of the time (as opposed to the Republican average of 81.7%).  Wouldn’t you rather be assured of 67.1% agreement instead of relying on hope of a least 67.1% agreement?  Rather than the self-congratulatory rhetoric by some for removing Specter from the Republican Party and the cries of “good riddance,” this whole incident was badly mishandled and will come back to haunt the Republican Party.  Again, I am no great fan of Arlen Specter, but the Republican Party is no stronger today than it was yesterday.  That is the reality of this whole situation.