'Card Check' Vote Could Hint at Specter Switch

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Mar 10, 2009 8:42 PM
http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/files/images/senator-arlen-specter.jpgWith Card Check -- the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" -- generating lots of talk today, speculation has begun to mount as to whether or not Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter will vote to support it (as he did in 2007).

Back in December, The Hill ran a column essentially arguing that Specter's 2007 vote was not a predictor of how he might vote this time:

When Specter voted to move the bill forward in 2007, he did so knowing the legislation lacked the votes to advance in the Senate. President Bush had threatened to veto the bill even if the Senate had passed it. President-elect Barack Obama, who voted for the bill as a senator, would almost certainly sign it into law.

"Before, it was a free vote," Norquist said in an interview. "Now, if he makes the vote, he'd almost certainly be the key vote."

Specter may still be the key vote, but the calculus may have also changed, as some are suggesting he may switch parties. The liberal blog DailyKos does a pretty good job today of analyzing how Specter's vote for -- or against -- card check might be a predictor as to whether or not he will switch parties.

Specter's vote for the stimulus package (he was one of only three Republicans to defect) made him vulnerable to a potential primary challenge from former Congressman (and Club for Growth President) Pat Toomey. Toomey nearly beat Specter the last time around. This time, it is reasonable to assume Toomey has an even better shot for several reasons: George W. Bush and Rick Santorum -- who both supported Specter last time -- are now out of office, the PA GOP has lost hundreds of thousands of presumably moderate-to-liberal members, and Toomey has spent the last several years building his name ID and cultivating a national donor base. What is more, his fiscal consiervative bonafides make him the perfect contrast to Specter. Simply put, Specter is in deep trouble.

As Kos points out, a Specter vote for card check might imply he is leaving the GOP, while a vote against card check probably signals he's going to stick it out (there are other scenarios, including his becoming an Independent or retiring -- but they seem unlikely options at this point).

But there are other interesting factors to consider ...

First, Arlen Specter is obviously nearing retirement age and is now thinking about his legacy. In my mind, this makes it less likely he will switch parties. Phil Gramm switched parties, but he did so for philosophical reasons. He also resigned his seat and ran for office as a Republican in a special election -- not as an incumbent. Moreover, he served as a Republican for many years. Specter would be switching parties for expedient reasons, and it would essentially be an asterisk on his career. Moreover, it's really a lose/lose proposition: Republicans would loathe him, while Democrats would probably never fully embrace him or honor his legacy, prefering instead, one of their own.

Popular Governor Ed Rendell is also rumored to be interested in running. One would assume that Specter would insist on extracting a commitment that Rendell would not run for Senate before switching parties.

There's also another interesting twist that could, in one way or another, impact Specter's decision: His relationship with Joe Torsella, a Democrat who is also running for the Senate seat. As the Philadelphia Daily News reported:

Former National Constitution Center boss Joe Torsella is a Democrat who just signaled his intent to run against Republican Arlen Specter next year.


The two have similarities apart from their interest in the U.S. Senate - each one hired the other one's wife.

Torsella, 45, hired Specter's wife, Joan Specter, a former City Council member, as director of the Constitution Center's leadership gifts (meaning, she seeks out well-heeled contributors) back in the '90s.

She's still there. Torsella, who resigned from the center last month to run for the Senate, tells me, "She's very good at what she does."

Specter hired Torsella's wife, Carolyn Short, a partner at the city law firm of Reed Smith, as general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee (which he chaired at the time) back in '05.


It is unclear how this incestuous relationship might impact Specter's decision to stay or go -- but one can only imagine it would, at least, be a factor.

Regardless, this will be a fascinating race to watch, and, as I mentioned, the opening act is occurring right now over the vitally important issue of card check. As if the issue were not important enough as it is, Specter's vote might impact the 2010 elections, as well. One conservative group, Let Freedom Ring USA, is hinting they may even run TV ads in Pennsylvania, just in case ...