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Why Would Democrats Want Arlen Specter?

A couple days ago I wrote an item doubting that Arlen Specter would have much success if he pulled a Lieberman by bolting the GOP and becoming an Independent. My rationale was that, unlike Connecticut Republicans in 2006, Pennsylvania Democrats would nominate a solid candidate in 2010 for the U.S. Senate. It never occurred to me that Specter might leave the GOP to become a Democrat--because, frankly, I just assumed the Pennsylvania Democratic Party wouldn't want him.

It looks like I might have assumed wrong:

Senior officials with the powerful AFL-CIO have privately assured GOP Senator Arlen Specter that they’ll throw their full support behind him in the 2010 Senate race if he votes for the Employee Free Choice Act, a senior labor strategist working closely with the AFL on the issue tells me.


Interestingly, because labor support would actually hurt him in a GOP primary, AFL-CIO’s promise also is an incentive to switch parties earlier, rather than later. Some analysts think his only hope of holding on to his seat is to switch parties and prevail in a general election, something which labor backing would make easier.

To be sure, there’s no telling what Specter will do, and another wild card is whether Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell would back a Specter switch.

Honestly, I really don't see why Rendell would back a Specter switch. A recent poll found that 53 percent of Pennsylvanians want him out of the Senate after 2010. His stimulus (and potential EFCA) votes aside, he wouldn't be a reliable Democratic vote. And it's not like there aren't other Pennsylvania Democrats out there who would make very strong candidate--whether it's Patrick Murphy or Joe Sestak or Allyson Schwartz or even someone else. Throw in the fact that Specter's no spring chicken, and I'm surprised Democrats would even consider welcoming a party switch on his part. Are they that afraid they couldn't beat Pat Toomey in 2010?

--Jason Zengerle