Specter defection a sharp blow to Republicans

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 28, 2009 11:18pm BST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Arlen Specter's abrupt move to switch allegiance to President Barack Obama's Democratic Party was a sharp blow to Republicans and will likely generate more soul-searching for the minority party.

His decision to seek re-election as a Democrat next year was a nakedly political move to hang on to power.

* If he had remained a Republican, he faced a tough challenge for the party's nomination in Pennsylvania's 2010 Senate race from conservative Pat Toomey. The moderate Specter beat Toomey in a tight primary in 2004 but faced an even tougher battle this time.

* As far as the Republican base was concerned, his biggest Achilles' heel was his support for Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill. That bill passed the U.S. Congress in February with support from only three Republicans -- Specter and Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

* Specter's announcement sharply criticized Republicans, who lost control of the U.S. Congress in 2006, and lost the White House and more seats in Congress in 2008. "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," his statement said.

* Republicans have been trying to figure out how to rebuild as a party. Some leading figures, such as strategist Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain's presidential campaign last year, have said the party needs to have a more open-arms policy, and be more welcoming of gays and immigrants.

* Republican strategist John Feehery said Republican leaders in the Senate did all they could to hang on to Specter. More broadly, however, he said: "What it says about the party is they have to make a determination on whether they want to be in the majority or whether they want to be intellectually pure."

* The new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, has his work cut out for him. He has his share of critics. Steele said after Specter, Collins and Snowe voted for the stimulus plan that perhaps the Republican Party should not provide funds to help them win their re-election bids. "Oh, yes, I'm always open to everything, baby, absolutely," Steele told the Fox News Channel in February.

* Republican strategist Scott Reed said: "I always thought Specter would consider switching to become an independent to get re-elected, and it's too bad that Michael Steele pushed him into the Democrat Party."

(Editing by Howard Goller)

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