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Specter bolts the GOP

"Senator Arlen Specter, a liberal Pennsylvania Republican who had long chafed against his party's rightward drift, announced yesterday that he would switch allegiances and join the Democrats to strengthen his prospects for reelection next year," the Boston Globe front-pages. 

The New York Times: "Mr. Specter acknowledged that the surprise decision was driven by his intense desire to win a sixth term next year. It came after he and his political advisers concluded over the weekend that he could not win a Republican primary against a conservative challenger, particularly in light of his vote for the president's economic stimulus package."

More: "The defection of Mr. Specter creates the potential for Democrats to control 60 votes in the Senate if Al Franken prevails this summer in the court fight over last November's Minnesota Senate election, a prospect that appears increasingly likely."

The White House is giving Biden a lot of credit for the switch. The Washington Post: "The decision was the culmination of a months-long effort by key Democrats to woo Specter, who began his political career as a Democrat in Philadelphia but has been a Republican for 43 years. Biden, a regular Amtrak passenger with Specter as the two traveled to Wilmington and Philadelphia, respectively, when both served in the Senate, met with him face to face six times and spoke on the phone with him on eight more occasions since mid-February, aides said. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, whose first job as a prosecutor in Philadelphia came under the tutelage of then-District Attorney Specter, had also lobbied him about making the switch, but it was his Senate colleagues who apparently closed the deal."

The Post also writes about how the White House learned about the decision.

The Hill: "Several GOP leaders, including Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), said they were unaware of Specter's decision until an emergency meeting in McConnell's office at noon. McConnell expressed dismay over the decision and said Specter's maneuver was an act of pure political self-preservation. 'Well, obviously we are not happy that Sen. Specter has decided to become a Democrat,' said McConnell. 'He visited with me in my office late yesterday afternoon and told me quite candidly that he'd been informed by his pollster that it would be impossible for him to be reelected in Pennsylvania as a Republican because he could not win the primary. And he was also informed by his pollster that he could not get elected as an Independent and indicated that he had decided to become a Democrat.'"

The two Republican Maine senators -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- are the only true moderates left now in the GOP's Senate caucus. And they had tough words for their party. "I do think our party needs to make clear that centrists are welcome," Collins said. "Sometimes that message is not sent as clearly as it should be."
 
Snowe added that Specter's switch "should serve as a 'wakeup call,' ... 'The blunt reality is that we're losing another key moderate who has played a key role in the Republican Party… If the Republican Party fully intends to become a majority party in the future, they will clearly have to move from the right toward the middle.'"

Here's Snowe's op-ed in the New York Times: "It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of 'Survivor' — you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you're no longer welcome in the tribe. But it is truly a dangerous signal that a Republican senator of nearly three decades no longer felt able to remain in the party."

And here's some big talk from Dems who don't have the best things to say about Specter. But will Ed Rendell and Barack Obama allow Specter to get challenged seriously in the 2010 Dem primary?

Trying to rally the troops, RNC Chairman Michael Steele sent out a scathing statement against Specter. It was filled with anger, but it also contained the word "leftist" -- three times. The word isn't something that's used often in American politics; usually, the word "leftist" is saved to describe political parties in Latin American countries. Previously, conservatives had been pushing the word "socialist" to describe the Democrats. Now Steele wants to use "leftist." There is a risk here: Is the word believable with the middle? Do Americans believe that either of the two major parties would be "socialists," "leftists" or "fascists"? Granted, this email was written for the base to fire them up to contribute money, and plenty in the base are actually excited Specter has left the party. But words matter.

Steele also said that Specter "simply flipped the bird" (about 2:40 into the video) to John Cornyn, head of the NRSC who had supported Specter's re-election bid. Steele also said, "It's not only disrespectful, it's just downright rude. I'm sure his mama didn't raise him that way. It's a shame that he's behaving this way today."