In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Answer: Still unclear. Everyone on the Hill is referring such questions to the Majority Leader's office, and the Majority Leader's office isn't saying much. The Democrats (including Harry Reid himself) are wrapping up their weekly caucus lunch and Reid has scheduled a press conference for 2:45. We'll keep our eye on it.

There are at least two important questions that still need to be answered. First, what will Specter's committee assignments be now that he's a Democrat. And second, who will replace him on his current committees now that he's switching over. He was, of course, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, for good measure, ranking member on subcommittees in the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Appropriations Committee. Those positions will now have to be handed down to other Republicas.

More on all that later. But for now, keep in mind that the next most senior minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He used to chair that committee, and there may be term limit rules that prevent him from taking Specter's place. Behind Hatch are Iowa's Chuck Grassley (ranking member on Senate Finance) and Arizona's Jon Kyl (the minority whip). If they don't swap out those coveted positions for Specter's slot on Judiciary, next in line would be...Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

Joe Torsella, former head of the National Constitution Center and currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2010 -- the seat now held by Arlen Specter -- has put out this statement saying he's still in the race:

"I decided to run for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania for one simple reason: I believe we need new leadership, new ideas, and new approaches in Washington. It's become obvious that the old ways of doing business might have worked for the special interests, but they haven't worked for the rest of us.

"Nothing about today's news regarding Senator Specter changes that, or my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 - an election that is still a full year away."


Torsella raised $593,000 in the past quarter, and had $583,000 cash on hand. By contrast, Specter brought in $1.28 million, and has $6.74 million cash on hand, and is likely to have the full backing of the Democratic establishment against Torsella or any other Democratic primary challenger.

The national Democratic Party is already celebrating the party switch of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-turned-D-PA), with the DCCC sending out an e-mail thanking supporters for bringing change to America.

That's right, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, not the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Your incredible grassroots support for President Obama's economic agenda is not only proving that the Republicans' "just say no" approach is wrong for America but it's also helping drive proud Democratic candidates like Scott Murphy to victory and driving courageous leaders like Senator Specter away from their party.

Thank you again for keeping up the fight to bring change to Washington.


Technically speaking this is not a fundraising letter, as there's no explicit appeal for money, though there is standard link at the bottom asking for contributions.

Full e-mail after the jump.

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The Toomey campaign has weighed in on Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to become a Democrat (and, therefore, to drop out of the Pennsylvania Republican primary).

"Senator Specter's decision is in keeping with his record. He is more at home in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. That has been true for decades, not just true today.

In recent weeks, Senator Specter has made numerous statements about how important it is to deny Democrats the 60th seat in the U.S. Senate and how he categorically intended to remain a Republican to prevent one-party dominance in Washington.

What Pennsylvanians must now ask themselves is whether Senator Specter is in fact devoted to any principle other than his own reelection.

Emphasis mine. And Toomey has a point. Just last month, Specter said, "I think each of the 41 Republican senators, in a sense -- and I don't want to overstate this -- is a national asset.... [I]f one was gone, you'd only have 40, the Democrats would have 60, and they would control all of the mechanisms of government."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) briefly spoke to reporters outside his office today, saying he would explain his plans at a press conference this afternoon.

A reporter asked Specter what he would say to a crowd of his visiting constituents -- who for their part then began applauding. "I don't have to say anything to them," said Specter, with a big bright smile. "They've said it to me."

RNC Chairman Michael Steele has released this statement on Arlen Specter's party switch:

"Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not.

Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.

Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first."

Here's an interesting tidbit about the big, giant, Potentially Earth-Shattering news that Sen. Arlen Specter will now be Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). Intentionally or otherwise, Specter planned his announcement at a time when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be indisposed.

McConnell, along with the rest of the congressional leadership, was, at the time of the announcement, attending a ceremony commemorating the unveiling of a bust of Sojourner Truth--the famed 19th century abolitionist and women's rights activist. A source in attendance confirms that he left the ceremony about a half an hour ago to attend a scheduled vote on the Senate floor.

It's unclear if that means McConnell was left in the dark about the plans. as a point of reference, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)--chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee)--wrote a letter to Pennsylvania Republicans two weeks ago endorsing the man who today decided he didn't want to be a Republican at all.

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So why exactly has Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA D-PA) switched parties?

It really comes down to electability -- specifically electability as a Republican. Specter's own statement acknowledged that his support for the stimulus bill has made his position untenable with the GOP:

It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.


Probably the most important point is here is the demographic changes going on in Specter's home state. Pennsylvania is a closed-primary state, and the ranks of registered Republicans, the folks eligible to vote in the GOP primary, shrunk last year. In 2008, between 150,000 and 200,000 registered GOPers switched to the Democratic Party in order to vote in the contentious primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Let's take a look at the deeper numbers -- and how the state's reduced GOP electorate has pulled harder to the right, making this move necessary as a simple matter of political survival.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has put out a statement on the news that Sen. Arlen Specter (formerly R- now D-PA) is switching parties.

I have known Senator Specter for more than a quarter-century. He has always been a man of honor and integrity, and a fine public servant. Senator Specter and I have had a long dialogue about his place in an evolving Republican Party. We have not always agreed on every issue, but Senator Specter has shown a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner, put people over party, and do what is right for Pennsylvanians and all Americans. I welcome Senator Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus, and to continuing our open and honest debate about the best way to make life better for the American people.


You see an indication there--no big surprise--that this has been tossed around for some time now. But not everybody seemed to be as queued in as Harry Reid. More on that momentarily.

This is big, big, big, -- BIG.

Arlen Specter has announced that he is switching parties, and running for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary. This now puts the Democrats at 59 Senate seats -- and would be the magic 60 seats, assuming Al Franken is eventually seated from Minnesota.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed that Specter was trailing his conservative challenger in the Republican primary, 2004 opponent Pat Toomey, by a margin of 51%-30%. Toomey was heavily capitalizing on Specter's support for the stimulus package.

From his statement:

When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.

Since then, I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.

I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

...

My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords' switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.


Kudos to Michael Crowley, by the way, for apparently getting this first.

Full Specter statement after the jump.

Late Update: I run through some of the math here, showing why Specter simply had to do it in order to survive politically.

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