Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., today urged "mainstream" voters this November to reject extremism and "ideological purity tests" which, he said, are "stifling our democracy." The five-term veteran also used his floor speech this morning to take repeated, if indirect, shots at Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has become one of the most strident conservative voices in the Senate.
Specter faulted partisanship in both primary elections and in the Senate, saying party politics now prevent "event the pretense of negotiation or compromise in almost all situations."
"Moderates and some conservatives have fallen like flies at the hands of the extremists in both parties," Specter said, noting primary loses by Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.
Specter switched parties last year after concluding he not survive a GOP primary challenge by former Rep. Pat Toomey, then lost this year in a Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.
Specter pointed to Sen. Joseph Lieberman's 2006 loss in a Democratic primary, but otherwise faulted GOP extremists.
Such concerns are not new to Specter, who nearly lost his chance to take the Judiciary Chairmanship due to right wing opposition and faced a close GOP primary in 2004 against Toomey amid opposition from the Club for Growth.
Other outgoing senators, including Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, have expressed similar views on Senate polarization. Specter's speech, however, was more extensive and focused on both the state of the Senate and the recent success of tea party candidates.
It appears to express the view held by many Senate moderates. Bennett, while distancing himself from Specter's criticism of other Republicans, said he generally agreed.
Lieberman said partisanship has steadily risen since he joined the Senate and "hurts our politics" by preventing risk-taking by lawmakers.
Without mentioning DeMint by name, Specter faulted the South Carolinian's statement that he would prefer 30 Marco Rubios, who is running for the seat currently held by Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., "than 50 Arlen Specters."
Though DeMint has often irked GOP colleagues and is not close to Republican leaders, Specter called such views "the prevailing Republican motto."
Specter noted most Senate Republicans backed legislation creating the Troubled Assets Relief Program after an emotional plea by then-Vice President Dick Cheney and decried the defeat of Bennett largely on the basis of that vote.
Pointing to the $800 billion stimulus bill passed last year, Specter, who while still a Republican, joined with Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in backing the final version of the bill, said "pressure to toe the party line was tremendous -- the strongest I've seen in my 29-year tenure. The risk of retribution was enormous."
He said party pressure cost the bill backing of "many Republicans in the Caucus who would have liked to vote for the stimulus," describing an unnamed senior Republican who declined to back it out of fear of a primary challenge.
Asked about pressure to oppose the bill, Collins said it was substantial but that there was no threat of retribution.
Voinovich, who participated in talks over the bill before dropping out, said it is "not true at all," that Republicans faced extreme pressure to vote with leadership, but declined to elaborate.
A GOP leadership aide said the unpopularity of the stimulus bill vindicates opposition to it.
This article appears in the October 2, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.