In some ways, Specter's switch doesn't give us anything much. As his statement says, he's not switching back on EFCA, he won't be a reliable Democratic vote, and he'll probably duke it out with Lieberman to be the most obnoxious anti-Democratic voice from within the caucus.
On the other hand, he was going to lose his primary and we'd easily pick up the seat against Toomey, giving us a real Democrat in that seat. Doesn't seem like a great deal.
This move is about political survival, and nothing more. Specter's overriding concern is staying in the Senate, and he'll bend whatever conviction is necessary to make that happen. And since it was clear he wasn't going to survive a primary challenge, well, he did what he needed to do. I wouldn't be surprised, if the Dems pick up a good primary challenger to Specter, for the incumbent to suddenly re-find religion on EFCA. It's not as if Specter believes in anything beyond his title and choice parking spot near the Capitol.
BUT, the messaging here is fantastic. As he stays in his statement:
Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.
We've been systematically making the case since the election that the GOP is now a regional southern party. And what better way to strike home that point than to see a moderate northeastern Republican switch parties, complaining about his party's swing to the far right? And it's a trend that if fully played out, could net us one or two additional seats in Maine, where Sen. Olympia Snowe could be a legitimate Democrat.
Furthermore, Republicans will be thrown into further turmoil. Can we forget Sen. John Cornyn, NRSC chair, saying a week ago:
A vote for Arlen Specter is a vote for denying Harry Reid and the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate.
So much for that. And while Specter is no guaranteed vote, he'll be far more likely to give Democrats that critical 60th vote without fear of its effects in a Republican primary.
And remember, the GOP's rise in both Congress and in the media from the 60s to the 90s was fueled, in huge part, to party switchers. Strom Thurmond, Phil Gramm, Bill Bennett, Rick Perry, Elizabeth Dole, Richard Shelby, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell where all Democrats at one point, and switched to great fanfare to the GOP. Heck, even Arlen Specter was a Democrat before switching to the GOP in 1965.
So while I may not be cheering the substance of Specter's switch today, I'm definitely going to enjoy the massive hit the Republican Party will be taking today. Indeed, it's gotten that much easier to tell the story of a Republican Party so extreme, its losing ground everywhere outside the South.