Saturday, January 10, 2009

Puff the Magic Dragon

With the Presidential race barely over (the new President hasn't even been sworn in yet), political pundits are turning their thoughts to elections future.

The 2010 Senate race in Pennsylvania will be a thriller. It has already been the subject of much speculation, with the possibility of Hardball's Chris Matthews entering the race on the Democratic ticket. See Life is a Campaign. After toying with the idea for several months, he apparently has decided that's he's happy just the way he is. Sounds like he's close to reaching a new contract with MSNBC. See Chris Matthews happy where he is.

Even without Matthews, the race will be one that generates great interest.

And it appears to be underway already. Arlen Specter has lobbed his first foray by leading the charge against Obama nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder. As Dick Polman describes, Arlen Specter tilting rightward:

Arlen Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania and longtime endangered species, launched his 2010 re-election bid on the Senate floor yesterday.

Specter's ostensible target was Eric Holder, the Obama administration's nominee for attorney general; as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter vowed - in notably harsh tones - to give Holder a very tough time during the upcoming confirmation hearings, just to ensure that Holder will not be merely a water carrier for the Obama White House.

But, between the lines, here's what Specter was really saying: "I'm up for re-election in less than two years, which means it's time for me to suck up to the right wing of my party. I've long had a reputation as a moderate Republican, but moderate Republicans are an endangered species, especially in the Northeast; basically, the only ones left in the Senate are me and the two ladies from Maine. The right-wing Pennsylvania voters almost booted me out four years ago - I barely survived the party primary that April, beating conservative Pat Toomey by only 1.6 percent - and those voters would love to get me in the 2010 party primary. So this means I've gotta start sucking up to them, prove to them that I can be tough on Obama, and play the obstructionist when necessary. Better start now."

Of course, Specter will perform his dragon routine, creating a bunch of fake noise about Holder to please the conservatives, then end up doing nothing. If he follows his usual routine, he'll even end up voting to confirm him, when all is said & done.

Specter has long played the role of conservative toady in disguise as a moderate. I'm sure he began his career (long, long ago) as a moderate (fiscally conservative, social issues moderate), which played well with the Southeastern Pennsylvania electorate. With the rise of Reagan, then Bush, the GOP required fealty to its brand of conservative orthodoxy, and Specter complied. The result has been a mixed bag for him. He has alienated his true constituency, the moderate Republicans (and even some Democrats) who live in SE Pennsylvania, yet he is viewed with skepticism by the ultra conservatives, who don't believe for a minute that he's a true believer. And for them, merely following the party line is insufficient. You must be a true convert. So, as much as he scrapes and bows for the, Specter will always be another McCain to them -- someone you just can't trust.

He had a tough primary race during his last re-election campaign and this one may prove even harder. As the Inquirer observes:

Some analysts say they believe that Specter, 78, is more vulnerable than ever despite his moderate record on many issues, because centrist Republican voters in the Northeastern United States have been deserting the party in recent years. In the four suburban counties around Philadelphia, the GOP has lost 61,000 registered voters since 2004; Democrats now have a statewide advantage of 1.2 million registered voters.

The GOP primary electorate has grown more conservative, analysts say. And in 2004, Specter barely survived a primary challenge from Pat Toomey, then a conservative Lehigh Valley congressman and now head of the antitax Club for Growth. Toomey has left the door open to another go.

Polman agrees:
The guy has to make nice with the right if he wants to survive a 2010 Republican primary; after all, Toomey and at least two other conservatives are weighing the possibility of assailing Specter on his right flank.

Moreover, Specter may have a problem with the Republican electorate. In Pennsylvania, the GOP runs a "closed" primary, which means that only registered Republicans can vote. As Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, explained last week in a newspaper column, "Specter's biggest problem...may be that thousands of southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans who voted for him in 2004 can't vote for him in the (2010) primary. Why? Because they're no longer Republicans."

Exactly. I've got the figures here. Between November 2004 and November 2008, the statewide tally of registered Pennsylvania Republicans shrank by roughly 162,000. It's safe to assume that a huge share of those emigrants are moderates from the Philadelphia suburbs who got fed up with the Bush regime and the Republican Congress. Those are the voters that Specter needs to survive a primary; without them, the Republican primary electorate is disproportionately dominated by the conservative voters who have stuck with the party.

I wasn't thinking about the fact that the Pennsylvania GOP has become home to the hardliners, which he has to get through before he can face the voters who may still view him favorably. The moderates first began leaving the party to help put Ed Rendell in the governer's office and have continued to move during the Bush travesty years. I expected him to move to the middle as his only chance of prevailing. See Playing Hardball?. However, that may not be an option for him. And, if he does survive a bruising primary with a Toomey type, will he have lost the goodwill of the moderates when he then faces a Democratic opponent?

Will Bunch analyzes Specter's vulnerability in He plays "Softball". As he notes:

But I think Specter, even at age 80 next November, will be the overwhelming favorite for a sixth term, unless...

People like Rick Santorum are right (!) and Specter's real fight is with a true conservative in a GOP primary. There's certainly evidence that Spector is already drifting to the right, or....

...Pennsylvania, after voting for Gore, Kerry and Obama (and Rendell and Casey) is becoming such a blue state that even a centrist long-time incumbent like Specter can't win anymore with an (R) after his name. That would be a big development, for 2010 and beyond.

And there will be no lack of Democrats who think this may be their time. As the Inquirer notes, the line is already forming:

Among them: Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Bucks County, State Rep. Josh Shapiro of Montgomery County, Constitution Center CEO Joseph M. Torsella, and Auditor General Jack Wagner of Allegheny County.
Will Bunch adds his speculation:
So if not Matthews, then who? As I've written here earlier, I'd love to see Bucks County congressman Patrick Murphy make the leap, although I think that other Democratic military guy, Joe Sestak in Delaware County, is more ambitious and more likely to run. Sestak would have two pluses: He's an ex-admiral in very pro-veteran state, and he has a base in the critical Philly suburbs. But he's also said to be the boss from hell and doesn't have much of a track record yet as a lawmaker.
And the latest, from Commonwealth Confidential, is that "Politicos say that state Rep. Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat and the powerful chairman of House Appropriations, is quietly considering a run for the U.S. Senate next year."

Gee, maybe Specter will join that list, switching back to the Democratic Party, from whence he came. Now, that sure would make things interesting.

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