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Arlen Specter: the last Jewish Republican senator?

April 28, 2009 |  2:37 pm

Politics is so niche driven these days that it was probably inevitable that someone would notice.

Still, it came as something of a surprise that while the rest of us were fixated on the stunning and fascinating news that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter was switching parties, potentially handing Democrats a critical 60th vote, it fell to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to notice another aspect of the story. Specter's defection means the end of the moderate Jewish Republican-- at least in the U.S. Senate.

The veteran senator's switch means that for the first time in decades, a moderate GOP Jewish voice -- embodied over the years not only by Specter but also Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and the late Jacob Javits of New York -- will be absent from the Senate.

Not only that, says the J-T News Service's Ron Kampeas, but Democrat Al Franken will be seated if he wins a court battle in Minnesota against former Sen. Norm Coleman, who besides Specter was the only other Republican Jew serving in the U.S. Senate before the November elections.

Meanwhile, reaction to Specter's statement, which the Ticket reported earlier, ran the predictable gamut from Democratic joy (President Obama promised to stump for the 79-year-old Specter) to Republican glum (Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell insisted the decision was just about Pennsylvania.)

Our favorite line came from Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, who was in the room when Specter told his GOP colleagues he was defecting to the other side. Asked for their reaction, Specter quoted Sen. Cochran as saying "at least he wouldn’t have to go to Erie anymore to campaign for me."

-- Johanna Neuman

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