Since his infamous vote against Robert Bork in 1987, Pennsylvania's Specter, who is 79 and will be seeking his sixth term in 2010, has been public enemy number one for most conservatives. If the pro-choice Specter had ever enjoyed half the TV time of John McCain, it's hard to believe that he ever would have ever survived a Republican primary. His 2008 American Conservative Union rating of 42 was right in line with his lifetime rating of just under 45. The label "RINO" is tossed around with great abandon by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity (toward everyone from Lindsay Graham, lifetime ACU rating of 89; Chuck Hagel, lifetime ACU rating of 83; and McCain, lifetime ACU rating of 81), but if it applies to anyone, it certainly fits the senior senator from Pennsylvania.
While Specter will undoubtedly be venerated by the likes of Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow, this move is clearly nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to save his political career. Recent polls had him down as much as an astonishing 20 points to his challenger in the Republican primary, Club for Growth president and staunch conservative Pat Toomey. Specter already survived one scare, as MSNBC's Chris Matthews ruled out a run against Specter in the general election after an excruciatingly long decision-making process.
In his 2004 re-election campaign, Specter received 53% of the vote. I expect that he will receive the backing of the Democratic establishment in the primary and coast to a 10- to 15-point victory over Toomey in the 2010 senatorial election.
The immediate implications of Specter's switch are glaring. Whenever Al Franken is certified as the junior senator from Minnesota, the Democrats will enjoy a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. At this site, of course, we think that an entirely Republican - or Democratic-controlled government is a recipe for disaster (see: 1992 to 1994 and 2004 to 2006), so we are disappointed by Specter's move. For a man who fancies himself as a principled and bipartisan centrist, this is quite a curious time in our nation's history to be shifting the balance of power so significantly.
Specter said that he made his decision because he realized that his political views clashed with the GOP more than they meshed. If you believe that, I have a bridge you might be interested in. This is clearly a move to save his nosediving political career.