Jam does the math on what Specter’s defection means.
The Democratic reaction – judging from the steady stream of emails I’ve received from various groups of college Democrats – is that this is excellent news; Specter plus a seated Al Franken equals 60-votes and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Of course, there probably needs to be quotes over “filibuster-proof”; Specter was particularly spineless throughout the Bush years, and like many of his “moderate” colleagues, is more concerned with image than substance. While I certainly hope that Specter will take advantage of his newfound political freedom and reverse his stance on the Employee Free Choice Act or commit to supporting a Democratic health care bill, I doubt that will be the case. In all likelihood, Specter will jump on the Ben Nelson/Evan Byah train and use his position to enhance his “centrist credentials” while simultaneously obstructing or actively working against progressive legislation.
Nonetheless, this does further underscore the extent to which the Republican Party is cocooning itself into irrelevence. What Specter loses in ideological purity, he more than makes up for in sheer popularity; Pennsylvanians love the guy (A good friend of mine’s only Republican vote was for Specter) and the seat (along with a reliable vote) would have remained in Republican hands until he retired. Toomey, by contrast, doesn’t stand a chance in the general election; nominating him simply amounts to giving the Democratic Party another safe senate seat. Frankly, this only goes to show that the GOP isn’t actuall interested in improving its electoral fortunes, since if it were, it would have done everything possible to keep Toomey out of the primary. As it stands however, the GOP has a near-fanatical obsession with maintaining its ideological purity, despite the fact that its pro-torture/pro-plutocrat ideology is corrupt, ineffective and deeply unpopular.