Despite move to Democrats, Specter likely to vote outside the fold

Specter decision intensifies focus on undecided Franken-Coleman Senate race

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s decision to switch his allegiance to the Democratic Party will likely raise further questions about the Republican Party’s ability to appeal to moderate voters, but Democrats should realize that Specter will remain fairly independent in his voting on key issues, including ongoing opposition to pro-union “card check” provisions, suggests Steven S. Smith, a congressional expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Specter’s decision will regenerate questions about the ability of Republicans to appeal to moderates and independents. While Republicans already are arguing that this was an act of self-preservation, the fact is that there are fewer Republicans in the Senate who want to moderate the party’s image. Republican recovery is an additional step away,” suggests Smith.

Steven Smith
Steven Smith

“We can expect Specter to be an unreliable vote on some key issues. He is not pro-union on the question of union elections. He has a record as a fiscal conservative. He can be unpredictable on judicial nominations. Like most senators, he will vote with his party whenever he can, but he will look for opportunities to prove that he is independent-minded.”

Smith, the author of eight books on congressional politics, is director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy and the Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences at Washington University.

Smith, a close observer and frequent commentator on Minnesota politics, expects that Specter’s decision will intensify interest in the outcome of the Minnesota Senate contest.

“Coleman and Franken will exploit the situation to raise more money for their legal battle,” says Smith. “The governor, a Republican, will be under more pressure to avoid signing the election certificate.”

And, while Specter’s move to the Democrats may have improved his political standing, his re-election campaign will still face serious challenges, Smith contends.

“Moderate Republicans and independents are his natural constituency in Pennsylvania,” Smith notes. “Those voters will not play a large role in the Democratic primary in 2010. Unions will play a large role and Specter is opposing them on the “check card” issue.”