HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Sen. Arlen Specter's surprise defection
to the Democratic Party scrambled the political calculus for both
parties in next year's Pennsylvania Senate race.
One Democrat quickly decided against seeking the nomination
against Specter, the deep-pocketed incumbent who immediately won
the backing of the national and state party. Another who has never
held elective office said he would stick it out.
"We are thrilled to welcome Sen. Specter into the Democratic
fold and he can count on our full support," Democratic National
Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said in a statement.
In a matter of hours, Arlen Specter went from a Republican for
nearly three decades to Democratic incumbent. The party switcher
has raised about $6 million for his campaign and President Barack
Obama has offered to campaign and raise funds for him. In
Pennsylvania, Democrats also have a significant registration edge,
4.4 million to the GOP's 3.2 million.
Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey, the conservative who almost
defeated Specter in the 2004 primary, geared up for a path to the
Republican nomination that will no longer be the rematch he hoped
State Democratic Chairman T.J. Rooney said Specter's decision to
run for a sixth term as a Democrat "speaks volumes about where the
two parties are, not only in America but particularly in our
The GOP requires a "litmus test" to determine whether
prospective candidates are conservative enough, Rooney said. "If
they're not pure enough, they're not welcome."
Specter, who had been one of a handful of Republican moderates
in the Senate, characterized his decision as a response to growing
conservatism within the GOP that he said has left him more aligned
with the Democratic Party. He also acknowledged that his chances of
winning the Republican nomination for his seat next year are slim.
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who openly acknowledged trying to
persuade Specter to switch parties, said he spoke with Specter on
Tuesday and welcomed him to the party.
At a public appearance Tuesday night in Philadelphia, Rendell
said Specter has always acted in the best interest of
Pennsylvanians rather voting than along party lines, but added "we
think he'll be even better as a Democrat."
"What really drove him (to change parties) is his party
abandoned him" and all moderate Republicans, Rendell said.
Specter, 79, has been a Democrat before. He switched his
registration to Republican in 1965 to run for Philadelphia district
attorney. He was first elected to the Senate in 1980.
For Republicans and Democrats, Specter's switch changed the
equation for next year's Senate campaign.
For the GOP, it wiped out expectations of a high-profile rematch
between Specter and Toomey, who headed the Washington-based Club for Growth before announcing his candidacy. For Democrats, it
thrust a nationally prominent incumbent with a long record of
independent voting into what had been a sparse field of prospective
"It's unsettling to both parties," said Terry Madonna, a
professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
State Rep. Josh Shapiro, who had considered seeking the
nomination for Specter's seat when it belonged to the GOP, said
shortly after Specter's announcement that he will not run "under
"Sen. Specter is the incumbent Democratic senator," the
Democrat from Montgomery County in suburban Philadelphia said.
The only declared Democratic candidate for Specter's seat, Joe
Torsella, reaffirmed his plans to seek the Democratic nomination in
a primary still more than a year away.
"I believe we need new leadership, new ideas and new approaches
in Washington ... Nothing about today's news regarding Senator
Specter changes that," said Torsella, another suburban
Torsella is the chairman of the state Board of Education and a
former president of Philadelphia's National Constitution Center,
but has not previously held elective office.