What does the future hold for Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter? A lot of uncertainty, soured relationships and possible disaster. And that's just with his newfound friends in the Democratic Party.
There's no doubt Senate Democrats wanted Specter's help with the president's agenda this year. His vote in the Democratic column could mean significantly better chances for the Obama administration's proposals on health care, energy and education. So Specter's support will be valuable to his new party in the short run.
The long run is another matter. Go behind the news conferences and photo ops, and Specter's fellow Democrats aren't exactly welcoming him with open arms and warm feelings -- or even respect. Specter's defection, one well-connected party strategist told me, "seems to me like the cowardly act of a cornered man." Underlying Democratic feelings about Specter is this fact: Even though the party faithful are happy to have Specter's vote in the coming months, they would rather have someone else come November 2010, when Pennsylvania elects its next senator. "As a Democrat who wants Obama's agenda passed, am I happy? Yes," the Democratic strategist said. "Would I rather have a real Democrat? Absolutely. Do I think I will eventually get one? Yes."
It shouldn't surprise Specter that his new allies in the Democratic Party don't think of him as a "real" Democrat. Why should they? He's a Democrat of necessity, and everyone knows it. And even though there's word that Senate Democratic leaders have assured Specter that he won't face a challenge from within his new party next year, there's really no way they can guarantee that another Pennsylvania Democrat won't make the run. If you were a true-blue party loyalist in Philadelphia, would you want Specter as your candidate or a "real" Democrat?
"If (Pennsylvania Gov.) Ed Rendell ran against Specter, he would mop the floor with him," the strategist told me. "If (Philadelphia Mayor Michael) Nutter ran against him, he would mop the floor with him." A number of other Democrats might also prevail against Specter in a party primary. Who can say for sure they won't try?