100-day boost for Obama as Republican senator defects

Arlen Specter's decision likely to give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority

In a huge boost for Barack Obama and his reformist programme, the veteran Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter announced yesterday he was switching to the Democrats. The shock move underlines the growing marginalisation of the Republicans in US politics, and makes it more than likely his new party will soon have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The immediate reason for Mr Specter's decision, which delighted Democrats as much as it stunned Republicans, was the tough primary challenge the 79-year-old was facing in his bid for a sixth term in the Senate of which he has been a member since January 1981.

But it is another sign of how Republicans have moved so far to the right that many moderates, especially in states like Pennsylvania that have been trending Democratic in recent elections, are abandoning the party. As such, his move could be part of a broad realignment of US politics, evident in the substantial Democratic gains in the 2006 mid-term elections, and even more so in Mr Obama's sweeping victory last November.

Mr Specter has long prided himself on his independence and unpredictability, and there is no guarantee he will vote with his new party on every issue. But the Democrats are now within touching distance of the 60 votes required in the Senate to break Republican filibusters. That power, allied with the Democratic majority in the House, would give them complete control of the political agenda on Capitol Hill.

Currently the Democrats have 56 votes, and can count on two independents who almost always vote with them. A 59th vote has long been likely, in the shape of the former comedian and author Al Franken, whose lead of 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast in last November's Senate election in Minnesota has been upheld by a state court. Norm Coleman, Mr Franken's Republican opponent, is appealing the ruling to Minnesota's Supreme Court – but with scant prospect of success, experts say. Now the party has its 60th.

The Specter switch could not be a better 100-day anniversary present for Mr Obama. A liberal Republican, he was one of just three of the party's senators to break ranks and support the President's $780bn (£530bn) economic stimulus package, to the fury of conservatives. As a Democrat, he could be a crucial vote in pushing Mr Obama's ambitious tax, health care, education and energy policies through Congress.

"You have my full support and we're thrilled to have you," Mr Obama told the defecting senator in a phone call, minutes after the President learned the news. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, added: "I welcome Senator Specter and his moderate voice to our diverse caucus." From shellshocked Republicans, the initial reaction was numbed silence.

Mr Obama's words mean that the powerful Democratic party machine in Pennsylvania – a state the President carried by 11 points in November – will now throw its weight behind Mr Specter. No less important, the latter will now sidestep a Republican primary challenge from the conservative Pat Toomey, who came close to an upset in 2004 when Mr Specter last ran for re-election. Polls have suggested Mr Toomey might win this time, and Mr Specter himself had publicly acknowledged he was facing his toughest political battle since joining the Republican party in 1966.

Even more alarming for Republicans, the defection is evidence of how the party is losing relevance in swathes of the country, especially the North-east, as its moderate wing has shrivelled.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power