How Will Specter Vote?

by Brien Jackson

I’m actually a bit surprised by the fact that so many in the progressive blogosphere are already wondering whether Specter will just add to the ranks of problematic moderate Senators. I thought there would be at least a day’s worth of happiness before the excitement abated. I guess Specter’s insistence that he’ll continue to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act didn’t help, not did reports that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party promised to keep the primary field clear should Specter decide to run as a Democrat.

Even with all of that in mind, however, I think it’s important to note that Specter is likely to become a much more liberal member of the Senate than he has been, and certainly more liberal than Senators like Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and Blanche Lincoln, all of whom can say that they’re represented fairly red areas of the country, whereas Pennsylvania is trending more and more Democratic with every passing year. It’s also highly unlikely that Specter, as a Democrat in one of the most unionized states in the country, will indeed oppose EFCA. He may craft some superficial compromise to support, rather than making another outright change of “opinion” on the present bill, but at the end of the day, he’ll come away with a position that’s palatable to labor. Ed Rendell might try to keep the primary field clear, but if it’s openly known that labor has targeted Specter in 2010 (in a Democratic primary no less), and that their support is completely up for grabs, it will be impossible for the party to keep every potential candidate away from the race. It’s also true that Specter will need to position himself as someone rank-and-file Pennsylvania Democrats can trust, and have a reason to support over a more longtime party member.

All of which is to say that the incentive structure is such that, no matter what he’s saying now, Specter will need to aggressively position himself as an orthodox Democrat over the next year.