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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."

CBS News has some new developments in the criminal probe into AIG...

We knew that Joe Cassano, the former head of AIG's Financial Products unit, was in investigators' crosshairs for potentially giving misleading public statements about AIGFP's position. But the network now reports that the Justice Department is also looking closely at two of his deputies -- Andrew Forster, an executive vice president, and Thomas Athan, a managing director -- for the same reason.

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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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Norm Coleman is taking an interesting rhetorical tack in the continued spin war among the Minnesota press. Coleman spoke to local newspaper company ECM's editorial board on Friday, and commented that the winner of this Senate race will always face serious questions.

"No matter who wins the race, there's always going to be a cloud hanging over them -- did they really get more votes than the other guy," said Coleman. "That's a reality. And there's nothing you can do to change that."

It really is worth asking why someone would be litigating endlessly to be declared the winner, while simultaneously saying aloud that whoever wins will face doubts over democratic legitimacy. One possibility is that Norm could be planning for the contingency of Franken winning -- and thus would want to create an environment that continually undermines his opponent.

Another question, which I've asked before: Where were you in 2000, Norm, when we really needed you?

Harold Koh will face the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon, and, barring any unusual shenanigans, his nomination to be State Department Legal Adviser will move closer to the floor. But today's hearing presents us with an opportunity to take the temperature of rank and file Republicans, who have decided to make an issue of Koh because, they say, Koh is a "radical transnationalist" who, through undue deference to international institutions and treaty obligations, will subvert and destroy the U.S. legal system.

Of course, this argument has little if any purchase among liberals, moderates, and academics. Two prominent conservatives--Ted Olson (who served as OLC-Chief under Ronald Reagan and Solicitor General under George Bush) and Ken Starr (the independent counsel who pursued Bill Clinton with unusual vehemence)--have even come forward to call it nonsense.

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