Specter of Defeat: If Obama Angers Arlen Specter, What Happens if Specter Wins?

The political press is abuzz over the fact that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (who was born in Scranton, Pa.) are not stopping in Pennsylvania to campaign for Sen. Arlen Specter in the waning hours of his effort to defend his seat from Rep. Joe Sestak in Tuesday's Democratic primary. This makes sense under normal political circumstances: polls show the two candidates are tied, there is a large undecided vote remaining (which usually swings toward the challenger), and this is shaping up to be a bad year for incumbents. So Specter very well might lose. Typically, a presidential administration tries not to campaign too hard for a primary candidate who is destined to lose, because they don't want to weaken or alienate the party's eventual nominee.

But what happens if Specter wins? Sestak's victory is far from certain at this point. And this is not exactly a normal circumstance. Specter, a veteran Republican, switched parties last year and gave the administration its crucial, filibuster-breaking 60th vote in the Senate. The deal Specter brokered to get the White House's support was clear: Obama pledged his "full support" for Specter.

Specter has often been derided as a self-aggrandizing rogue rather than a good team player—first by Republicans who found him too liberal and threatened to oust him and now by Democrats who find him too conservative and are doing the same. I suspect he may not forgive and forget if he feels betrayed. And, if he loses the primary, and is a total lame duck from now until January, how does the White House keep him on the reservation for financial reform and climate-change legislation? Rahm Emanuel will have his work cut out for him.

Specter of Defeat: If Obama Angers Arlen Specter, What Happens if Specter Wins? | U.S.