Specter says he'll switch to Democratic Party, raises stakes for Franken-ColemanVeteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania disclosed plans Tuesday to switch parties, a move intended to boost his chances of winning re-election next year that also will push Democrats within one seat of a 60-vote filibuster-resistant majority.
By: Associated Press, Associated Press
Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania disclosed plans Tuesday to switch parties, a move intended to boost his chances of winning re-election next year that also will push Democrats within one seat of a 60-vote filibuster-resistant majority.
“I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans,” Specter said in a statement posted on a Web site devoted to Pennsylvania politics and confirmed by his office. Several Senate officials said a formal announcement was expected later in the day or Wednesday.
President Barack Obama called Specter almost immediately after he was informed of the decision to say the Democratic Party was “thrilled to have you,” according to a White House official.
Specter, 79 and in his fifth term, is one of a handful of Republican moderates remaining in Congress in a party now dominated by conservatives. Several officials said secret talks that preceded his decision reached into the White House, involving both Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, a longtime colleague in the Senate.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell as well as Democratic leaders in Congress also were involved, added the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details.
With Specter, Democrats would have 59 Senate seats. Democrat Al Franken is ahead in a marathon recount in Minnesota, and if he ultimately wins his race against Republican Norm Coleman, he would become the party’s 60th vote. That is the number needed to overcome a filibuster.
Coleman is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn his recount loss to Democrat Al Franken. Oral arguments are scheduled for June 1.
A Franken victory and Specter’s party swap raises pressure on Coleman to carry the case into federal courts if he loses at the state court level.
Franken holds a 312-vote lead. Coleman has argued that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly rejected.
Spokesman Cullen Sheehan said Tuesday that Coleman’s focus “remains on the thousands of Minnesota citizens who have not had their voices heard or their votes counted.”
Specter faced an extraordinarily difficult re-election challenge in his home state in 2010, having first to confront a challenge from his right in the Republican primary before pivoting to a general election campaign against a Democrat in a state that has trended increasingly Democratic in recent elections.
He has publicly acknowledged in recent months that in order to win a sixth term, he would need the support of thousands of Pennsylvania Republicans who sided with Obama in last fall's presidential election.
“I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate,” he said in the statement.
Asked by a reporter what he had to say to his constituents, Specter replied with a smile, “I don't have to say anything to them. They said it to me.”
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