Credit Hillary Clinton's relentlessness for the decision Arlen Specter made Tuesday to abandon the Republican Party and become a Democrat. It wasn't her immediate goal, of course, but when Clinton decided to carry the primary to Pennsylvania despite incredibly high odds, the resulting statewide campaign led to hundreds of thousands of Republicans registering as Democrats so that they could vote in the April 22nd contest.
In terms of the delegate count, the primary campaign was effectively over in February, when Obama ran the caucus table. But Clinton soldiered on. A massive voter registration drive by both candidates ran up to the deadline of March 24th in Pennsylvania and was extremely successful.
Specter twice cited the voter-registration shift in explaining his decision to leave the party, saying that he didn't want his congressional career to be judged only by the right wing voters who had remained in the Republican Party.
An internal poll that Specter received on Friday showed his chances of winning a primary in the drained Republican pool to be "bleak," he said.
"The party has shifted very far to the right. It was pretty far to the right in 2004, but to take away a couple hundred thousand Republicans who wanted to vote in the Democratic primary--they're dissatisfied with the Republican Party is the pretty obvious conclusion. So if you review the numbers and you add the math, the stimulus vote, that's why I ended up saying the prospects were bleak," he said. Republican primary voters have pilloried Specter for his yes vote on the stimulus.
"When you take a look at the Pennsylvania Republican electorate, several hundred thousand Republicans shifted last year and it has a bleak picture. We do not have a dominant voice there," Specter said.
It had become clear to Specter, he added, that the Republican Party would not come to his defense against the far-right elements remaining in Pennsylvania. A reporter unleashed a tirade when she asked what his decision said about Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"The Republicans didn't rally to Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland who was beaten by the Club for Growth and the far right [in the GOP primary] and [the Club's candidate then] lost the general election. Republicans didn't rally to the banner of Joe Schwartz of Michigan and he was beaten by a conservative and the Club for Growth and they lost the general election," said Specter, adding to the list Heather Wilson, another moderate beaten by a Club for Growth candidate who lost the general election. The Club's founder, Pat Toomey, had declared his bid against Specter in the 2010 primary.
His biggest beef with the Club, however, was over Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Rhode Island senator. Chafee won his primary in 2006 against a Club candidate but was so weakened and drained of cash he lost the general election.
"And had Linc Chafee been elected in 2006 the Republicans would have controlled the Senate in 2007 and 2008 and I would have been chairman of the [Judiciary] committee and President Bush nominated 13 circuit judges. They were all left on the table for President Obama. And President Bush nominated 21 district court judges and they were all left on the table for President Obama. Now take the social conservatives in America and how they prize circuit judges," said Specter.
"And for people who are Republicans to sit by and allow them to continue to dominate the party, after they beat Chafee, cost us Republican control of the Senate and lost us 34 federal judges, there oughta be a rebellion. There oughta be an uprising. So thanks for asking me the question about what are the Republicans like here," he said.
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America
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