Getting to 60

Could Bunning quit? Kentucky has a Democratic governor.
Could Arlen Specter cross the aisle? If he doesn’t, he’s probably toast in 2010.

Assuming that Al Franken is eventually seated, the Democrats are one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Of course it’s not guaranteed that they could hold all of their members, but it would change the dynamic just a little bit.

With no more than my normal allocation of wishful thinking, I can see two ways this might happen:

1. Jim Bunning, who was obviously past it six years ago, pulled out a narrow victory in a Republican year, and has since been a public embarrassment (he was the one who made the remark about Justice Ginsburg) is under pressure from the GOP not to run again. Reportedly – he denies it, but his word isn’t worth the spit behind it – he has threatend privately to quit now if his colleagues don’t stop hacking at him, and let the Democratic Governor of Kentucky appoint a replacement.

2. Arlen Specter is a great political survivor, but he’s really between a rock and a hard place now. A Club for Growth wingnut, former Congressman Pat Toomey, almost took him down in a primary in 2004, and his vote for the stimulus put Specter on the right-wing hit-list. Toomey had been talking about running for Governor instead, but now he says a Senate race is “back on the table.” In a recent poll, Pennsylvania Republicans preferred “someone else” to Specter by a frightening (to him) 66-29.

If Specter tries to tack to his right to survive a primary challenge, it (1) might not work and (2) would make it that much harder for him to win what is now a very Blue state (Obama, despite his problems in “Pennsyltucky,” carried the state by 10 points in November).

But if Specter switched parties, he could probably get as his price support from Obama and the DSCC against a Democratic primary challenger, as well as a good subcommittee chairmanship. And as the Democratic nominee, he ought to be a lock against any Republican.

Anyone who think that Specter would let anything as trivial as party loyalty get in the way of his survival hasn’t been paying attention. So while I’m not predicting it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Specter cross the aisle.

Or if that’s just too raw, he might accept a judgeship from Obama – what a fine, bipartisan gesture that would be for the President to make! – and let Ed Rendell put a Democrat in.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: