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Most people are quick to do the math:

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) + Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) = Filibuster Proof Majority (60 Democratic Senators).

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to mean. . .

Well, I guess that’s what it MIGHT mean depending on Specter’s motives. Senator Specter switched parties, but he also said he wouldn’t rubber-stamp a filibuster-proof majority. In fact, Specter’s statement made it clear that his switch in party affiliation does not mean he’ll vote the party-line. Specter even restated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act as proof.

However, despite his talk of principle, there is the inavoidable matter of what is actually practical.

Consider the following excerpt from Huffington Post contributor, Jacob Heilbrunn:

[Senator Arlen’s] move isn’t opportunism but a concession to reality. Just as Democrats used to say that they hadn’t left the party but it had left them, so reasonable Republicans can no longer remain a part of an ossified party that continues to lurch toward the right. Specter faced a primary challenge from the reactionary right in Pennsylvania. As a Democrat, he should win reelection handily. (The Huffington Post)

Whether it’s a matter of principle or self-preservation, it appears Specter has a much better chance at winning reelection as a Democrat than as a Republican. He might be principled, but Specter ain’t no dummy. He sees the tide turning against the Republican Party and he wants no part in it. And, if I had to guess, I’d say Specter has also made the calculation that any viable shot at reelection will come on Obama’s coattails.

So where does that leave us? Well, if this is truly a matter of principle, then we’ll have to take Specter at his word. He’ll butt heads with Democrats and Republicans alike and face whatever consequences lie ahead . . . on his own terms.

But, if this is actually is a matter of self-preservation, it might help to focus on Specter’s self-interest.

And if it’s a matter of self-interest, one thing seems pretty clear:

When it comes to political leverage in this instance, the Dems are holding all the cards.

Of course, things can always change. Who knows how the political landscape will look a year from now. But, for better or worse, Specter’s hitched his ride to the Democratic Party.

The fact of the matter is that Specter’s precious reelection is still more than a year away. What does that mean? Politically speaking, Specter might have to earn his keep if he hopes to retain his Senate seat in 2010. Sure, he can be “independent-minded” if he wants (his voice might even strengthen the Democratic Party). But somewhere down the line, Specter’s gonna have to pick at least one major political battle to prove his worth to the Democratic Party.

Health Care?



He’ll have his picks to choose from. But the bottom line remains . . .

If Specter doesn’t deliver, he can likely say “bye, bye” to all of that money and support he’s got his sights on at the moment. That’s the political leverage that Democrats have over this situation.

The way I see it, this is different from Senator Lieberman’s situation. See, Senator Lieberman had already won reelection as an Independent by the time he decided to back McCain for President. He had nothing to lose in the short-term. But, Specter? Oh, Specter is a different story. Specter has everything to loose. He abandoned the Republican faithful for a crack at the broader electorate. Specter might love the idea of having President Obama campaign for him in 2010, but he’d be foolish to ignore the flip-side of that coin. . . that, in an increasingly blue Pennsylvania, Specter could be toast without Obama’s blessing.

In other words, it’s in Specter’s best self-interest to make the Democrats look good. Just the same, it’s in Specter’s best self-interest to make the President look good.

Think Specter could win Philadelphia if he tries to screw the President on a major policy initiative? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I’m guessing that’s not the smartest way to start your reelection campaign.

So . . . is Specter sincere? Who knows. For me, what’s more important is trying to understand who has the leverage in this political marriage. My money’s on the Democrats.

And that’s not just the politicians, but the voters as well. How much influence will Specter get from his constituents? The answer might rest in how effectively voters use the very same grass-roots networks that helped elect Obama in the first place.

It’s about political leverage.

Message to PA Democratic voters: Pick an issue . . . it might be time you give your new Democratic Senator a phone call.

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