Arlen Specter: The Democrat Most Deserving of a Primary Challenge

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Apr 28, 2009 at 13:12


Pop quiz! What Democratic Senator did all of the following...

  1. Flipped his vote on the Employee Free Choice Act this year?

  2. Voted against President Obama's budget?

  3. Compiled a voting record far worse than Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman?

  4. Represents a state that President Obama won by more than 10%, and that has a Democratic voting registration advantage of more than 10%?
If you answered Arlen Specter, then you would be correct.

Unless Arlen Specter's flip to the Democratic Party includes a flip in his votes on meaningful legislation, then his change doesn't help progressives at all. He is joining our party purely for personal political survival. And, as Markos notes, Specter's flip is arguably a net negative, as it hurts our chances of getting a better Democrat in the seat:

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.

Given all this, it is worrisome that Pennsylvania Democratic Party chair T.J. Rooney said last week that it was his goal to avoid a contested primary for the 2010 Senate campaign:

Take the year off and chill.

That's the message to Pennsylvania Democrats from state Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney, who on Monday said that, if things seem quiet, it's intentional.

"Our goal in 2010 is not to have a primary," Rooney said. "Our goal is to come together as a party and, in the meantime, let the other side beat the tar out of one another."

As I wrote on Friday, contested primaries seems to actually help Democratic chances in close Senate campaigns. Even beyond that, with Arlen Specter flipping parties but not flipping any positions, this statement needs even more serious revisiting. Why should we support someone just because they changed parties, but didn't change any of their positions on key legislation?

The next meeting of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party is on June 5th-6th in Pittsburgh. As a member of the state committee, I will be attending that meeting. I hope to find many other members who don't want to just vote for Arlen Specter now that he has changed parties, but hasn't changed his positions on apparently anything. If Specter wants to become the Democratic nominee, then he needs to earn it through a contested primary with an actual Democrat.

More as this story develops.

Chris Bowers :: Arlen Specter: The Democrat Most Deserving of a Primary Challenge

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The national party... (4.00 / 4)
...promised Specter no challenges, and I'm sure the state Democratic machine will comply...

But, that doesn't mean that labor and the netroots won't mount one of their own...

At the very least, it should pressure Specter to become a better Dem....

I really hate this switch... I hate it very much in so many ways... It doesn't help us at all, really...  Aside form messaging, the Republicans should actually be pretty happy...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!


This is a big deal (4.00 / 3)
and I think you are underestimating how dependent Specter is on Obama.  To win, Specter will need to turn out the Philly vote, and that means he will need help from Obama.

I cannot see a primary amounting to much if Specter votes for both Health Care Reform and Cap and Trade.  That would mean he would have supported Obama on his big initiatives.

Health Care Reform now looks likely.  


EFCA could be the game ender though. (4.00 / 4)
If he votes against cloture and against the bill (if it does pass cloture), he is certainly going to find no love from labor, which could be just disastrous if there is no primary challenge.  If labor and labor allies refuse to back him, and he does become the nominee, that opens the door for the Republican Nominee, a strong conservative, to win.  And yet, I find labor would be entirely justified in such an action.

We need to put forward a progressive primary opponent ASAP for two reasons.  First, to put pressure on Specter to be more supportive of Democratic Agenda items, and Second, to give national Democratic Party figures pause before giving him full support.

If we play this right we could have our cake and eat it too...get Specter to vote our way for the most part for the next 12 months and replace him with a real progressive who will be there for 6 years (with options for infinity).  Additionally, it would likely reduce the cost of the PA-Sen race to the DNC/DSCC, allowing more money for Florida, Ohio, MO, NH, NC, etc.


[ Parent ]
But that's just it... (4.00 / 3)
I cannot see a primary amounting to much if Specter votes for both Health Care Reform and Cap and Trade.  That would mean he would have supported Obama on his big initiatives.

Even in his statement today, Specter said he STILL may not vote for EFCA. That must change! Unless Specter flips on important issues like EFCA, health care, an all-inclusive ENDA, and climate change, he shouldn't expect an easy primary. But if he does, we may THEN be more willing to give him our kudos and support.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.


[ Parent ]
EFCA (0.00 / 0)
is not enough to base a primary challenge on if Specter supports Obama on health care and cap and trade.  I suspect even the Unions will trade his support for health care reform for EFCA.  

Of  course, he can still vote against EFCA as long as he votes for cloture.  


[ Parent ]
Pimary challenge is good, but... (4.00 / 1)
I think we've proven a primary challenge is always a good idea against centrists.  

However, most people who change parties have the tendency to change their votes over time.  While Specter won't be the progressive you want, history suggests his voting will be more liberal than what you currently get.  I suspect you will be more happy in four years than you are today with this guy.


Sure. (4.00 / 1)
Jim Jeffords changed in Vermont. And closer to home in CA-10, Ellen Tauscher may very well be replaced by an ex-GOPer (Mark DeSaulnier) who's now one of the most progressive Dems in the CA Senate. I just want to make sure this happens with Arlen Specter. We need to pressure him NOW to change on important issues like EFCA and let him know that this is the ONLY way he'll get support next year from the progressive grassroots and netroots.

Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in Nevada.

[ Parent ]
Bingo (4.00 / 6)
as Markos notes, Specter's flip is arguably a net negative, as it hurts our chances of getting a better Democrat in the seat

  This is EXACTLY why this switch was engineered, by the Dem establishment as well as Specter.

   Another buffer in the Democratic party's war against labor, while ensuring appearances are kept up.

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


Labor gets stabbed (4.00 / 1)
Yes. As the Republicans fade off into the sunset, the real battle is shaping up between progressives and LieberDem/DLC corporatists.

Specter definitely needs a strong progressive primary challenge.


[ Parent ]
Well... (4.00 / 1)
I'm hoping this makes his voting record better, actually, as he feels more "free" to do what he wants rather than cave to Republican pressure.

Maybe he'll even walk back his EFCA stance a bit now and say he'll vote for some "compromise" that will basically fulfill what labor wants.

But yeah, I hope there's a primary challenger... I can't imagine Labor just sitting down and taking it if he doesn't at least moderate his response on EFCA.


Can someone please tell me (0.00 / 0)
how the media will frame this as proof that Democrats need to be more "moderate," rather than suggesting that the Republican Party is in trouble?

I have difficulty imagining another possibility, but I don't know how you pull that off?

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


celebrate first? (0.00 / 0)
of course you are right, but can't you just take a minute to celebrate the prospect of 59/60 votes for the next 19 months? this is a critical time in the Obama administration, he has high approvals, and much momentum. he can get some big ticket items done over the next 19 months and Spector's defection makes it easier. this is good news for dems now.  

He said right in his statement... (4.00 / 1)
...he isn't a reliable vote.  He will vote against EFCA.  What makes you think he will be there for us on any other "big agenda items"?

All he did was circumvent the likelihood that the DSCC and DNC would have spent heavily on a challenger against him.  Now, we will have to find a primary challenger for him, who will not be funded or supported by national Dems, while he IS supported by them.  He made his own situation better and ours worse, there is minimal upside at this point.


[ Parent ]
Primary his ass (4.00 / 2)
We're going to see more of this class of Republican come begging to be a Democrat as the Republican party sheds its sane adherents.  Unfortunately we really don't have a reason to cater to the needs of "moderates" (aka "opportunists") like Specter if they aren't going to act like Democrats.  If he won't change his vote on EFCA he'd better be there for us when we need cloture...every damn time.  Otherwise we primary him with the best available REAL Democratic candidate in the state.  

Frankly, I'd much prefer to see Specter, Snowe, Collins and other moderate Republicans form a "new GOP center" and seek to drive the loonies out of the GOP.  They can join forces with Lieberman and other conservadems if they like...good riddance.  Go take the GOP back to its roots as the party of economic freedom, personal responsibility and liberty...and kick the religious right to the curb.  Then we can take the Democratic party back to its progressive economic roots and bring some of the millions that don't vote back into politics again.

I'm for a Democratic party for Real Democrats.


Go, Chris, go! (0.00 / 0)
Surely there are some good progressive PA Democrats. This is a smart finesse by Specter, but a highly cynical one, too. Am disappointed by Obama's warm welcome to him. Why did Specter feel the need to pick a fight by strutting his reluctance to really be a Democrat? He's either in or out, and right now he still sounds out.

Do you really think he jumped without (4.00 / 1)
binding assurances from the HIGHEST levels of the Party that he'd have no Dim opposition in primaries?

Or at least, a la Loserman, that there'd be no official support, and active opposition, for any challenge?

I don't see how briging Specter into the Dim party does anythkng but drag the already center-right party further right...


yup -- the PA statement about primaries shows me that it was done for him -- they've obviously been courting him -- (0.00 / 0)
and the "leadership" is all thrilled -- knowing them, they've clearly been courting him all along --

and that big medical earmark in the stimulus wasn't for fun -- or for us.


[ Parent ]
Challenge Specter (4.00 / 1)
Arlen Specter's change in party doesn't change his record. This gives an opportunity for PA to have new leadership candidate, like Joe Torsella, the only filed candidate.

This is a straight up political move and Specter hasn't even denied that, he cited the 200,000 people who switched their affiliation from the Republicans to the Democrats but said he stood by his views. What has changed?

The Democratic party needs a Democrat that has the right ideals, not just a D after their name.


Spector's Progressive Punch scores (0.00 / 0)
as of this moment:

#59 Specter, Arlen R-PA
Lifetime - Crucial Votes: 27.56
09-10 Crucial Votes: 33.33
Lifetime - Overall Votes: 36.92
09-10 Overall Votes: 42.65
State Tilt: Leaning Dem
Progressive Score vs. State Tilt: -52.44

ALL ISSUE CATEGORIES  Specter, Arlen (Sen - R)

Lifetime Progressive Score (%) Rank

All issues  36.92  60/99

Aid to Less Advantaged People, at Home & Abroad 37.90  50/86
Corporate Subsidies 42.31  51/85
Education, Humanities, & the Arts 25.00  48/85T
Environment 36.90  51/86
Fair Taxation 5.59  53/86
Family Planning 60.00  46/86T
Government Checks on Corporate Power 36.69  50/86
Health Care 38.52  50/86
Housing 25.00  46/86T
Human Rights & Civil Liberties 30.26  48/86
Justice for All: Civil and Criminal 21.59  48/86
Labor Rights 45.33  48/86
Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just Rich/Powerful 26.13 49/86
War & Peace 22.92  48/86


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