The latest on Specter


New Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) still is lacking his seniority, but he did get a subcommittee chairmanship.  Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin gave up his leadership of a Judiciary panel on crime and drugs for Specter — and wants to revive a dormant subcommittee for himself, says Politico. But Judiciary Commitee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) isn’t so happy about it:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) is expressing gratitude to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for offering him the chairmanship of a Senate Justice subcommittee dealing with crime and drugs– but Senate Judiciary Committee Pat Leahy isn’t quite as thrilled.

In fact, he seems pretty ticked off.

Leahy hasn’t objected to the arrangement — and both Durbin and Specter say he”ll ultimately sign off — but the Vermont Democrat hasn’t yet signed off on Durbin’s request to revive a dormant human rights subcommittee on human rights for Durbin to run.

Leahy was visibly angry when asked about the deal — and his mood wasn’t helped when he learned about it through a press report.

“We’ll work on it over the weekend, we may be able to work out something, nothing has been worked out,” said Leahy, adding that a sticking point might be finding a funding source for Durbin’s new subcommittee.

For his part, Specter seemed satisfied with the arrangement.

"I think it’s something I’d like to do," he told reporters outside the Senate chamber on Thursday. "The issue of crime is one that I have been intimately associated with for a very long time in a lot of directions. I hope that in preparing a statement on health care reform and one of the key points in my ideas is to have jail sentences on white-collar crimes – Medicare and Medicaid fraud. I’m talking about Justice Department jail time."

Asked if the move would help him win what’s expected to be tight 2010 race, Specter added: “I think it will be helpful, not dispositive.”

As for that 2010 race, Specter’s path to re-election just got easier with former Pa. Gov. Tom Ridge’s announcement that he won’t be throwing his hat into the ring, reports Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post:

In a statement released around 1 p.m. eastern time today Ridge said that "after careful consideration and many conversations with friends and family and the leadership of my party, I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for Senate."

As recently as last night, Ridge advisers said privately that they expected him to get into the race, believing that he wanted to run and was looking for a way to make it happen.

Polling also suggested Ridge would be an even-money (or better) bet to beat Specter next fall, and national Republicans had put on the full court press to recruit him — even having his old friend John McCain (Ariz.) place a call to Ridge urging him to run.

The Ridge decision is a blow to national Republicans who had seen their recruiting prospects brighten in recent weeks. If Gov. Charlie Crist (Fla.), Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) ultimately all get into their respective Senate races, Republicans will still have one of their strongest recruiting classes in recent memory. But, getting Ridge — a national star if he had run — would have been a huge momentum boost for a dispirited party.

Without Ridge in the race, Republicans are almost certain to wind up with former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) as their nominee — a candidate who National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has previously insisted can’t be elected in Pennsylvania.

The problem for Republican strategists is that Toomey is a popular figure among the conservative activists who now dominate the GOP base in the state and without a "star" candidate like Ridge as an alternative, it’s hard to imagine Toomey losing a primary to the likes of Rep. Jim Gerlach (R).

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