I've now heard from multiple sources that the AFL-CIO and other labor unions have promised to stand firmly with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter if he becomes a rare crossover Republican vote on EFCA when that issue hits the floor of the Senate. This is a life-and-death issue to unions, many of which are dwindling in membership, and they're willing to give cover to one of the most endangered Republicans if it helps passage.
Rather than criticize a marker which seems short-sighted to me, I'll accept it as a political reality. It's no secret in Pennsylvania that Gov. Ed Rendell is also rather fond of Specter, the two sharing a warm relationship. With Rendell and the Keystone State's strong labor community firmly behind him, it really makes little sense for him to engage Club for Growth honcho Pat Toomey in a Republican primary he is more than likely to lose. The pieces are really falling in place for Specter to make the leap and switch parties.
Let's game this out.
Specter votes against EFCA, stays in the GOP
At this point, Toomey is in. A primary is in the cards, so he still has to survive a tough closed primary in a state in which thousands of moderate Republicans switched last year and became Democrats.
The 79-year-old, 30-year incumbent narrowly survived a 2004 Toomey challenge to win renomination with a scant 1.6 percent of the vote, a margin of just 17,146 votes out of more than 1.04 million cast [...]
There are, for example, 239,000 Pennsylvania voters (mostly Republicans) who switched last year to the Democratic Party. There's little question the vast majority are moderate Specter voters.
So with those moderate Republicans gone, whose left to vote in a GOP primary (which remember, is closed)? Yup, ultra-conservative Toomey voters. The numbers just simply aren't there. But if Specter survives by some miracle, he'd still face a rejuvenated Keystone Democratic Party, and with the scorned unions out for vengeance. Specter has been good with the unions during his career, and they see him as a friend and ally. If he stabs them in the back, the reaction would be fierce.
Specter votes for EFCA, and stays in the GOP
Pretty much the above scenario, except that Specter would lose even worse after handing Toomey a juicy vote to crush him with. Sure, the unions are happy, but union support would be of little use in a GOP primary, and Specter would never get to the general where they would be useful.
Specter votes for EFCA, and becomes a Democrat
Following his vote for EFCA, still as a Republican (giving Obama his desperately needed "bipartisanship"), the reaction from the Limbaugh crowd would be fierce. Heck, we know that they'd be screaming for his head. So Specter could look sad and forlorn, bemoan the lack of tolerance in the GOP, say that "I didn't leave the GOP, the GOP left me", and ride that wave of hate and invective straight to the other side of the aisle. Presto! 60 seats.
With the unions behind him and Rendel putting the machine to work in his favor, it's hard to see an opening for a real Democrat in a primary. Then again, like every other party switcher before him, Specter would quickly move left to establish his bona fides in his new party. We saw that with Sen. Jim Jeffords earlier this decade, and he was supposedly just an independent, and we certainly saw it with the likes of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Dixiecrats like Sen. Richard Shelby who switched the other direction. Running for reelection as a Democrat, Specter would easily dispatch Toomey in the general election. But as a possible bonus, conservatives could drop some serious coin into this hopeless race in their effort to exact revenge.
Specter votes for EFCA, becomes an independent
Democrats could conceivably pull a Bernie Sanders and support Specter as an independent, but it would be much messier. If he leaves the Republican Party, there would be little reason to play semantic games like this one. His state has become heavily Democratic in short order, might as well embrace the change and give Keystone Staters what they want.
Specter votes for EFCA, then retires
The best of all worlds, but Specter appears hellbent on reelection. If so, the clearest path to reelection is through the Democratic Party.