Specter's Party Switch: The Change in the Political Landscape

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: He was a Democrat, then he became a Republican, and now he's back to being a Democrat, Senator Arlen Specter switching to the Democratic Party.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.

I have traveled the state and surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, done public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls, and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak. I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have decided to be a candidate for reelection in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

This is a painful decision. I know that I am disappointing many of my friends and colleagues. Frankly, I've been disappointed by some of the responses. I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote.


VAN SUSTEREN: Want to take bets how Rush Limbaugh feels about the switch?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's not a big loss! Come on, folks! It's not a big -- the only reason Specter's doing this -- well, I can't say the only. What is a politician's first job? A politician's first job is to get reelected. Specter knows he's going to have trouble even winning a primary. He's going to be running against Pat Toomey again. This is about Specter's political survival. He knows that he is more at home in the Democrat Party with the way he's been voting in recent years and the things that he's been saying.

This is all about the fact he faces a strong primary challenge. He wouldn't be changing parties if there were no Pat Toomey out there, if there weren't anybody challenging him on the Republican side. He doesn't want to lose his upcoming election. This does not say anything bad about the Republican Party.

This is good. This is good. Toomey doesn't have to spend a lot of money now on a primary, a bruising primary. Specter -- I mean, there's no guarantee Specter's going to get the Democrat nomination in the primary. He's got to -- he's got to secure that. So it's -- it's -- any time you have, you know, liberals leaving the Republican Party, rather than trying to change the party to become liberal, it's a good thing! I wish more people who are not really Republicans, who claim to be liberal Republicans, do the same thing!


VAN SUSTEREN: FOX's chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron, joins us live from Specter-land, the state of Pennsylvania. Good evening, Carl. And what are you learning on the ground there?

CARL CAMERON, FOX CORRESPONDENT: Well, folks in Pennsylvania have known Arlen Specter in public life since he first ran as a feisty district attorney back in Philadelphia back in 1966. In 1980, he -- it was his first day in office as a U.S. senator, and he's been there now for all these years, and they are not surprised by this, though it is certainly a stunning political development. There'd been a lot of recruitment of him by the Democrats. And for him to make this jump has an awful lot of eyes rolling across the Keystone state.

VAN SUSTEREN: Carl, the man named Toomey who challenged him in 2004 lost to Specter in the primary by only 2 percent of the vote. Was it a done deal in a sense that he's now challenging Senator Specter, had Senator Specter stayed in the Republican primary? Would he have likely beaten Specter?

CAMERON: Arlen Specter basically said that today, Greta. He had let it be known that he thought that Pat Toomey, as the head of the Club for Growth and as a conservative who is running against him, in Arlen Specter's words, was a Republican cannibal. Mr. Specter has accused the far-right conservative base in Pennsylvania and across the country of essentially trying to purge moderate centrist Republicans. He'd complained about it.

He said today time and time again that he'd done his polling and he recognized that he couldn't win the Republican primary, and that line that you played in one of his remarks there -- he didn't want this to be decided by Republican primary voters -- was a straight-up recognition and acknowledgement by Specter that he jumped into the Democratic Party because he thought he had a better chance of staying in office.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Is he likely -- is he likely to have a challenger as a Democrat? (INAUDIBLE) Democratic primary. Will he have a challenger, or will be party keep him being the only one?

CAMERON: Well, there's already one Democrat who said he's going to run for it, the head of the National Constitution Center, George (SIC) Torsella. But also there's the congressman, Joe Sestak, from suburban Philadelphia, who hasn't ruled out possibly running as a Democrat against Specter.

And it's also worth noting that the Republican Party of Pennsylvania today said that they were very disappointed with Mr. Specter for dropping out of the Republican Party, and then essentially vowed to beat him in the general election so they can, quote, "the seat back for the GOP," since now Specter will be causing with Democrats.

And that has all kinds of huge implications for the politics in Washington, the Obama agenda, the Democratic agenda in the U.S. Senate, because, of course, now they are one vote away from the 60-vote filibuster- proof majority. They've got 59 now, the Democrats without Specter at 58. And the broad assumption across the Senate and in Minnesota is that Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican, is in severe jeopardy and may be knocked off by the comic Al Franken. That race is still unresolved after all these weeks and months.

VAN SUSTEREN: Carl, thank you.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joins us live. Senator, how did -- how did you first hear about this?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: On the news. It's not a good day, but we can overcome this.


GRAHAM: Rush Limbaugh is right. You know, people switch parties because they're going to lose. A lot of Democrats became Republicans in the '90s. You had Senator Shelby become a Republican in Alabama because Alabama was changing. So it's pretty clear that Senator Specter understood he couldn't win a Republican primary.

But here's the challenge for the Republican Party. Can the person that -- running now win in Pennsylvania win? I can't win in Pennsylvania. I win in South Carolina. Rush Limbaugh can't win in Pennsylvania. If you're worried about giving the country over to the Democratic Party and not being a vibrant, relevant Republican Party, we need to find somebody that can win in Pennsylvania.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the -- but the problem is, is that it's really the fact that the Republicans -- or the Democrats are going to have 60 votes...

GRAHAM: That's scary.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... as soon -- as soon as Senator Franken...


VAN SUSTEREN: I assume Senator Franken's going to win.

GRAHAM: If he comes, they got 60 votes.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So it actually is a big deal. You've got...

GRAHAM: It's a huge deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, to your party because you've got a Democrat...

GRAHAM: Huge deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... in the White House. You've got a Democratic House and you've got a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate...

GRAHAM: Watch your wallet.


GRAHAM: The judiciary is going to be packed with the most liberal people in the country. But here...

VAN SUSTEREN: So what happened to the Republican...

GRAHAM: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: Where is the Republican Party? What happened?

GRAHAM: Well, we had 55 senators in 2005. What happened to us? Our party's lost touch with the American people in some ways. This idea that we're not conservative enough -- 18 to 34-year-olds voted 19 points for President Obama versus Senator McCain. It's not Senator McCain wasn't conservative enough. Young people are attracted to President Obama's message. We lost Hispanic votes...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it that you're not moderate enough?

GRAHAM: No, it's that -- we got -- see, the country's center-right. That's the good news. Twenty-one percent of the people in a poll today identified themselves as Republican. Thirty-five percent said they were Democrats. The rest are independents. And when you look at the independents, they're center-right. Bob Casey, the Democrat senator from Pennsylvania, is pro-life, so it's not about abortion. We've got to find a way to be relevant in blue states. We lost North Carolina...

VAN SUSTEREN: And how do you do that? How do you do that?

GRAHAM: I think what you do is you talk about controlling spending. You talk about choice in health care. You talk about a strong national defense. You talk about things that matter to people trying to raise kids. You talk about not owning General Motors. You talk about the Obama agenda, putting your grandkids into debt they can never get out. You talk about standing up to Iran and you talk about standing up to North Korea.

We've got a good agenda. We just need to get candidates that can relate to people in different regions of the country. I hope Pat Toomey can do that, but I think Tom Ridge could. The former governor of Pennsylvania is a social moderate, fiscal conservative, former Homeland Security secretary. I don't know if he'd run or not, but people...

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you talked to him?

GRAHAM: I'm going to try to. But people like that really would be relevant on day one in Pennsylvania. But we lost North Carolina. We had a run-off in Georgia. So the South is not solid anymore. But the country hasn't gone left. Our party somehow has lost touch with the independent center-right voter, and we got to get it back.

VAN SUSTEREN: We only have 30 seconds left. Have you talked to Senator Specter today?

GRAHAM: He spoke to the conference, and...

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean, did you speak to him privately, the two of you?

GRAHAM: I said, Good luck.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said, Good luck?

GRAHAM: You know, I think he may get a primary challenge, but my hope is that our party can come back because we got a good agenda for young people. We can reconnect our party to all regions of the country if we nominate people who are relevant in their states. I can win in South Carolina, I can't win in Pennsylvania. But there are people in Pennsylvania that I can do business with, and I'm trying to find them.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And you're going to call Tom Ridge when, tomorrow?

GRAHAM: I'm going to call Tom Ridge tomorrow. If you're listening, Tom...

VAN SUSTEREN: Tom, get your...

GRAHAM: ... Lindsey is calling.


VAN SUSTEREN: Anyway -- Senator Graham's calling you! Anyway, Senator, thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Greta.

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