Having rejected Democratic overtures to switch parties, Sen. Arlen Specter is raising the possibility he may spurn the GOP and run as an independent.
“It’s an abstract possibility,” the Pennsylvania Republican also told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, regarding an independent bid. “But I am not making any plans on it.”
Specter has suggested he would only do so as a last resort, and would continue to caucus with Republicans.
Specter has been under fire from GOP conservatives particularly in his home state due to his moderate positions. He was one of only three Republican senators who voted for the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress.
After representing the Keystone State for five terms, Specter is expected to face a tough primary battle for the 2010 GOP nomination. One potential rival is former GOP Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, who ran against him in 2004.
Specter, 79, also expects a strong Democratic challenge in the general election, possibly from Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa.
Specter’s status as a swing vote in the Senate has made him, at least in some quarters, one of its most influential members. In his interview with the Los Angeles Times, Specter appeared to downplay the notion that he might entertain an independent bid.
“It’s a possibility in the sense that almost anything is a possibility,” he said.
Specter has been campaigning for a measure in Pennsylvania that would allow independents to vote in the Republican primaries. “Obviously it would help me, but I think it would help the party,” Specter told The Hill.com. “I think if you get people back to vote, it might bring them back permanently.”
Democrats, sensing an opportunity to expand their current 58 seat majority in the Senate, have been blatantly wooing Specter in recent weeks.
“We’ve tried,” Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell told local television station RNN-TV. “Myself, Sen. Casey, Vice President Biden have tried to talk him into it, but he’s bound and determined to stay a Republican.”
Specter has tried to bury any rumors that he might switch party affiliations.
“To eliminate any doubt,” he said in a recent statement, “I am a Republican and I am running for re-election in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket.”
If he does run as an independent, Specter could not be able to follow the path taken by Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
In 2006, Lieberman won re-election as an independent after losing in Connecticut’s Democratic primary.
Unlike Connecticut, Pennsylvania law forbids a candidate who lost in the primary from running in the general election as an independent. So any move to independent status would have to occur prior to the primary election.
Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats, told the Times that he and the Senate’s only other independent, Bernie Saunders of Vermont, would be happy to have Specter join their ranks.
“We would welcome him to the small number of members to the independent caucus,” Lieberman said.
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