Here is this morning's New York Times report on yesterday's decision by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to switch to the Democratic Party.
That article sheds light on some of the issues I listed in my first post on this topic.
The Times article implies that Specter won't chair any committees until after the 2010 election. Such a delay would avoid two problems: 1) displacing a current Democratic chair; and 2) the appearance of a deal, dangling a chairmanship in front of Specter as an enticement to make the switch.
When then-Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party in 2001, he immediately became chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, now the majority leader, had been the ranking Democrat on that committee.
Unlike Specter's move, the Jeffords switch changed the Democrats from minority party to majority party in the Senate. Therefore, Jeffords was not displacing a Democratic chairman. But he did elbow aside the next Democrat in line. However, Reid was apparently willing to give up that spot, possibly in order to advance his own party leadership ambitions, which were later realized.
As far as I know, there still has been no public announcement about Specter's committee status. My speculation is that either those decisions have not yet been made, or the announcement is being delayed, so as not to complicate the favorable publicity the Democrats are enjoying from this event.
Regarding next year's Democratic primary here in Pennsylvania, several major Democratic power brokers have already lined up behind Specter. President Obama and Vice President Biden put in a public appearance with Specter at the White House. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter have also spoken in favor of Specter. That should make it extremely difficult for any major Democrat to oppose the senator.
I also note in the Times piece that the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, seems to be setting up the Republicans' campaign theme for next year, i.e., you gave the Democrats total power in Washington, and see what happened. Now you'd better prune them back. It's too early to say whether such a message will get any traction.