CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly said when Specter began serving in the Senate. Also, the original version of this story noted incorrectly the party Specter left.
Former GOP Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole told his ex-colleague Arlen Specter that switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party was not only the right move for Specter, but that Dole likely would have done the same thing, according to an account in Specter’s forthcoming book.
The ex-U.S. senator from Pennsylvania’s anecdote, which draws on a late 2010 conversation between the two men, is potentially explosive for Dole, a longtime centrist from Kansas who won the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1996. But it also could be harmful for the presidential candidate he endorsed in 2012, Mitt Romney, who has been hindered by a perception he’s too liberal for conservative voters.
Dole has been a vocal supporter of Romney’s during the primary campaign, issuing a scathing indictment of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during a late January editorial and recently saying he doesn't regard Rick Santorum as a leader. Dole’s admission that he might have switched parties, if true, will draw scorn from critics who say Romney doesn’t appeal to true conservatives.
Specter’s revelation comes in his upcoming memoir, Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing As We Know It, set for publication later this month. The passage including Dole, first reported by The Hill, was independently confirmed by National Journal.
Specter, who had been a moderate GOP senator in Pennsylvania since 1981, left the Republican Party in 2009, fearing a primary challenge from conservative favorite, ex-Rep. Pat Toomey. A year later, Specter lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who then lost the general election to Toomey, the current senator.
In his book, Specter writes that initially Dole chastized him for leaving the party, joking that he would “move to Pennsylvania and run for Senate as a Republican.”
But Dole’s tone changed markedly 18 months later, in October 2010, when Specter said the two men talked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Then, months after Specter had already lost his reelection bid, Dole told Specter he had done a terrific job as a senator.
“He said I faced a dead end with what was happening in the Republican Party,” Specter wrote.
According to Specter, he thanked Dole for thinking the party switch was the right decision. According to Specter, Dole added, “I probably would have done the same thing.”
Dole was not immediately available to comment.