PA Faces Specter of Senate Without Arlen

At the age of 80 Democratic voters in Pennsylvania denied the chance at a 6th term to the man who was swept into the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body on the 1980 coattails of Ronald Reagan.  The race got a lot of national attention the past couple days, and predictably some of that coverage was more accurate than others.  A lot is being said tying this result to the anti-incumbency wave hitting the electorate this spring.  But that is a gross over-simplification.  Specter probably could have survived that; remember he (barely) survived Lynn Yeakle’s 1992 challenge after his vicious attacks on Anita Hill.  Governor Rendell blamed the rain causing a low voter turnout in Philadelphia.  No sale.  The bottom line is Democrats in the Commonwealth couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a guy that had been a Republican for 29 years.  Its really that simple.

The ironic thing is Specter wasn’t always a Republican.  He was a registered Democrat working for the prosecutor’s office in Philadelphia in the late 1950s.  But Philadelphia at the time was controlled by a strong Democratic machine, which he was never going to be fully in favor with.  So when the Republican Party approached him about running for District Attorney on their ticket, Arlen, always the opportunist, agreed.  And he won.  And a Republican, albeit an independent thinker increasingly more moderate than the core of his party, he remained through several losses before he won a Senate seat in 1980.

Ultimately it was the Club for Growth that led to the demise of Specter.  He barely held off Pat Toomey in 2004 but with the political winds in the Republican Party continuing to blow more to the right Specter knew he could never win that primary.  So, ever the opportunist, perhaps nostalgic for his youth, he came back to the Democrats.  Kind of like Annikin Skywalker, who was a Jedi in his youth, spent his most powerful years working for the Dark Side, and who then came back to the Good Side in the final act 🙂  It allowed him to be part of a (short-lived) super majority in the Senate and be in the same party as the current President.  Also, as part of his deal he had the backing of the Democratic Establishment in DC and also in Ed Rendell, so it looked like Arlen was correct in saying, “my change in party will enable me to be re-elected.”  But Joe Sestak refused to make it that easy, and when his campaign managed to look viable, too many Democrats remembered Anita Hill, remember the farce of equivocation of “not proven”, and went with the career Democrat.

Rendell and the White House backed Specter as part of the super majority deal they struck with Specter, but I doubt deep down any of them mind running Sestak.  On issues he’s really no different than post-conversion Specter.  But he’s 21 years younger and a retired Navy Admiral.  I look for him to do fine against Toomey in the fall.  Also, whoever the consultant was that came up with the ad I alluded to above, he/she should have no trouble at all finding lucrative work in that business.  A line I would assume is already forming outside his door of prospective clients.

In the all-important Eastern PA/Western PA dichotomy which has recently been dominated by Philadelphia, a change is coming.  The Philly Rendell will be replaced with a Pittsburgher; for the first time since 1978 both parties nominated someone from the Steel City.  Of course, they didn’t reincarnate Dick Thornburg and Pete Flaherty.  Instead we have the Republican State Attorney General Tom Corbett and the Democratic Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.  My recommendation to Onorato is that he get himself well-known in the Philly suburbs.

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