More on Arlen Specter from Ed Rendell

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I just talked to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell about his new Democratic colleague, and he sheds some additional light on Arlen Specter’s decision to switch parties:

Specter, Rendell says, had been looking for ways to survive politically without switching parties. One move he considered is the reverse of something that worked well for Rendell in the 2002 gubernatorial primary against Bob Casey: Appealing to Democrats to switch their registration temporarily so that they could vote in the GOP primary.

In 2002, Rendell, the only leading candidate on either side who was pro-choice, had sent voter registration cards in the mail to moderate Republicans–along with a promise that if they switched registration to vote for him in the Democratic primary, he would send them another card after the election, so they could switch back. Statewide, Rendell says, he managed to convince 65,000 Republicans to become Democrats for at least a day. But in the end, Rendell said, Specter decided that kind of maneuver wouldn’t work for him.

Another idea that Specter considered, according to the Governor, was appealing to Republicans in the state Senate to change the rules and allow independents to vote in the GOP primary. However, Specter was rebuffed by a party that had so turned against him after his vote for the stimulus bill that it told him not to come to a meeting of the state GOP committee, lest he be booed.

While Rendell had long been wheedling Specter to switch parties, he says that he was completely surprised when the Senator actually did so–and, indeed, didn’t learn about it until Barack Obama called with the news. (The Governor noted, as an aside, that Specter and Obama had become friendly back in the days when they shared neighborhing offices in the Hart Senate Office Building.) Rendell insists he cut no deals with Specter, and did not promise to clear the Democratic primary field for him. However, he says he will campaign for Specter, if asked.

“Arlen Specter is his own man. He marches to his own drum, and that’s one reason to admire him,” Rendell told me. “I wish we had more people in politics like him.”