Updated, 12:00pm PST
It certainly seems that, for as hard as President Obama is working these days, there are some waters being parted. Senator Arlen Spector (PA) announced today that he’ll be jumping the Republican ship and running for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat. The National Review Online, however, is planning for his demise before any real impact can be made.
Spector’s switch could mean a 60 vote majority for the Democrats, giving Obama’s (and the Democrats’) agenda a potentially filibuster-free journey towards passage. But Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight.com calls this more of an insult to the Republican party than actual injury:
But this is not necessarily an unmitigated win for the Democrats. Unlike Jim Jeffords’ switch in 2001, this does not affect who controls the Senate Chamber. Rather, it merely nudges the filibuster math, which has always been somewhat fuzzy. While the Democrats will have a nominal total of 60 votes once Al Franken is seated, the Senate’s fortunes will still be determined by a group of about a dozen moderate senators from both parties (including Specter), just as it was before.
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And Chris Bowers writing at Open Left shares that Spector was promised a run for re-election with no Democratic opposition in the primary.
In a statement given this morning, Spector diplomatically called out his original party for moving towards extreme conservatism over the years:
"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans. "
According to the New York Times, Spector was one of only three Republicans who supported Obama’s economic recovery package. Sen. Spector noted, in his statement, that the stimulus vote "caused a schism" which "made our differences irreconcilable."
Medical research has been and continues to be critically important to Spector who named continued and expanded NIH funding. In addition, Spector has voted for embryonic stem cell research.
For women’s rights and health advocacy organizations, Spector has been both trouble and a supporter. Spector aggressively grilled Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings back in 1992 when Hill accused Thomas of sexual harasment. Women’s rights groups were angered by Spector’s interviews of Hill and unsuccessfully ran a candidate against him for a third term.
Spector’s reproductive rights record is a mixed bag. He has sometimes been a strong reproductive rights supporter, despite the opposition in his own party. Citing the overwhelming religious influences in the Republican party and the lack of support for reproductive rights, Spector ran for President of the United States in 1995/96.
Spector’s positions on reproductive rights and health access for women fueled his vote against allowing making fetuses eligible for SCHIP (state health insurance programs); against prohibiting the taking of minors across state lines for abortion access if they cannot access services in their home states; but also voted for a ban on the non-existent medical procedure politically named, "Partial Birth Abortion"; and against funding to reduce teen pregnancy through contraceptive access and education.
It is clear that Spector plays by his own rules. Ultimately, on issues of reproductive rights and health in Obama’s and the Democrats’ agenda, his presence as a Democrat may make more of an impact than if he were to remain a Republican.