WASHINGTON (JTA) — Arlen Specter, the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Senate, is becoming a Democrat.
Specter, a longtime Pennsylvania lawmaker, announced Tuesday that he switched his party affiliation and will run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary. His party switch would give Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority if Al Franken eventually prevails in Minnesota over Republican Norm Coleman.
Specter, 79, said he was making the change because his political philosophy is now “more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”
“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right,” he said in a statement. “Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats.”
Specter added that his change in party affiliation “does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats than I have been for the Republicans” and that he will “not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture.”
The moderate Specter also acknowledged that he was unlikely to win a Republican primary fight next year with conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey. As a Democrat, his chances against Toomey in a general election would improve.
In his statement, Specter said that his vote for the stimulus package earlier this year had created a “schism” with Republicans that appeared “irreconciliable.”
Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said that Specter’s announcement was “disappointing” because he chose to “leave the party rather than continuing to work and affect the kind of change” he wanted to see in the GOP.
Brooks added that the Specter announcement was a surprise considering that he had just spoken to the senator last week about attending the RJC annual meeting in June and future events that the RJC wanted to do with him.
Specter’s switch, assuming Franken wins, means that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia would be the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Congress.