So Arlen Specter is now a Democrat. Who woulda thunk it. Well, lots of people, actually. Rumors have been swirling for months about how he was going to handle the 2010 election. He was facing a primary challenge from Stephen Toomey, of the Club for Growth, and there was every indication that Specter was going to lose. Lots and lots and lots of people left the Pennsylvania GOP over the last year or so, about 200,000. That leaves a hard core of seriously right-wing people, most of whom don't like Specter. His other options were to retire, run as an independent, and become a Democrat. Apparently he didn't want to retire, which makes a certain amount of sense, since there are several senators older than him (he's 79). There are a couple of independents in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who calls himself a socialist, and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an "independent Democrat." Sanders can afford to be independent because he was a Representative from Vermont for years, so he's a known quantity there, and apparently Vermonters don't take offense when someone calls himself a socialist. Joe Lieberman, of course, is a special case even among special cases.
If Specter had run as an independent, that would have freed up the Democrats to run against him, and he may very well have lost. Becoming a Democrat means he just about locks up that primary.
I have known of Arlen Specter for most of his Senate career, since I went to school in Pennsylvania in the 80's. I once invited him and Carl Levin to a debate at Swarthmore. I invited Specter because he's a former prosecutor and the Senator from Pennsylvania, and I invited Levin because he graduated from Swarthmore. They both declined, but that was mostly because my invitation was not that well put together. I basically just called each of their offices and invited them - I had no idea of the protocol involved.
I agree with Specter on some things, and I'm not a huge fan of his; he seems to waffle on some things. But his heart is occasionally in the right place, and he has been known to stand up for principle.
He'll be in good company in the Northeast; most of the states that border Pennsylvania have Democrat Senators, and I'm sure he has many friends among Democrats in the Senate.
Once Al Franken is seated, Democrats will have 60 seats, enough to prevent filibusters. This is somewhat symbolic; I don't think Specter will actually change too many votes. But his allegiance is now with Obama, and that counts for something.
Welcome to the party of the future, Senator Specter!