Longtime GOP Sen. Specter Intends to Switch Political Parties
Republican voters had sent Arlen Specter to the Senate five times, but faced with the prospect of a strong challenge from conservative Pat Toomey in the GOP primary and the state trending Democratic, Specter jumped ship.
Veteran GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania intends to announce Tuesday he will switch political parties and run in the Democratic primary in 2010.
Republican voters had sent him to the Senate five times. But faced with the prospect of a strong challenge from conservative Pat Toomey in the GOP primary and the state trending Democratic, Specter jumped ship.
"I deeply regret that I will be disappointing many friends and supporters," Specter said in prepared remarks to be delivered at a news conference on Tuesday.
"I can understand their disappointment," he continued. "I am also disappointed that so many in the party I have worked for for more than four decades do not want me to be their candidate. It is very painful on both sides."
The switch puts Democrats within one vote of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Democrats currently hold 56 seats in the Senate, and two independents typically vote with the party. Republicans have 41 seats, and there is one vacancy.
Specter was facing a tough primary challenge from Pat Toomey, head of the conservative Club for Growth, who almost defeated Specter in a 2004 GOP primary.
Specter said he is acting now because he needs to prepare for the state primary that is less than 13 months away.
"Upon request, I will return campaign contributions contributed during this cycle," he said in the prepared remarks.
Despite the change in political stripes, Specter vowed to remain an independent voice in the Senate.
"My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans," he said in the statement.
"Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy's statement that sometimes party asks too much," he continued. "When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America."
Specter was under heavy fire from conservatives for his support of President Obama's $787 stimulus bill earlier this year. Specter helped negotiate a compromise that was approved by Congress with the support of only three Republicans.
After Obama was notified of Specter's decision Tuesday morning during his economic daily briefing ,Obama reached out to Specter and said "you have my full support" and that Democrats are "thrilled to have you," a senior administration official told FOX News.
Political experts in Pennsylvania note that Specter has alienated the Republican base over the years with his support for abortion rights and gay rights, and other more hard-core conservative issues. His approval ratings among Republicans hovered dangerously in the 30s, according to a handful of polls conducted this year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised Specter's decision and noted that he has always been willing to work in a bipartisan manner.
"I welcome Sen. Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus, and to continuing our open and honest debate about the best way to make life better for the American people," he said in a statement.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday that he was notified of Specter's decision that morning and that he got the impression that "a great party left him, not the other way around."
He added that he is not surprised by the decision and expects Specter to remain as independent as ever.
(This is no loss to Conservatives. Good riddance Senator Specter! Yeah, I said it, you are entitled to my opinion. VN8)