Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Low Man On The Totem Pole

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party is looking a bit different than when he announced his intention, last week.

The full Senate, in passing a resolution realigning committee assignments, has placed Specter last in seniority among the Democrats on his committees. That's quite a come-down for the senator who chaired the Judiciary Committee for four years, overseeing, among other matters, the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

As Specter tells it, at least, that violates a promise that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made to Specter, to the effect that his seniority would be equal to that of a sixth-term Democrat.

It also goes against the precedent that was set when Reid made way for then-Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont to immediately chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, when Jeffords left the Republican Party in 2001.

It looks as though Specter will face opposition in the Democratic primary, in his reelection bid next year. Expressions of support from leading Democrats, from President Obama on down, cannot guarantee him the nomination. However, I still consider Specter a heavy favorite to win the primary.

A new name has surfaced on the Republican side, as a possible general-election opponent for Specter. That name is Tom Ridge, former congressman and governor, and the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Ridge would probably give Specter his toughest general-election battle in a long time.

Still, I don't suppose Specter has reason to regret his switch. The fact remains that he faced long odds in a Republican primary for the reelection that he seems to crave very much, without caring whether he's considered an opportunist.

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