Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced today that he is leaving the Republican Party and will run as a Democrat in the Pennsylvania primary next year.
No surprise here, as Specter had become a GOP pariah thanks to his vote to approve the stimulus bill, his vocal opposition and running down of the Bush administration, and his positions on a variety of issues from interrogation to stem cells.
No doubt the challenge by former Congressman Pat Toomey in the GOP primary had a lot to do with Specter’s decision. But in his statement, the 79-year-old veteran made it clear that the GOP had quite simply become too conservative for him:
“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”
He added: “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.”
This has been true for many years. But Specter found room in the party by making himself useful. He generated respect on both sides of the aisle for his thoughtfulness, candor, and willingness to offer himself as a bridge between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
It was a thankless job and one where the GOP did not always welcome his bipartisan efforts. This was especially true of the conservative base of the party. They never trusted him, never liked him, and found him to be the personification of what came to be known as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).