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Specter Leaves GOP, Shifting Senate Balance

Specter received his own final poll Friday, an assessment he called "bleak." He ultimately chose to cast his lot with Democrats, he said in a news conference yesterday, because "I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate."

A handful of Pennsylvania Democrats had been considering pursuit of the Senate nomination, but potential opposition to Specter began to melt yesterday as the would-be contenders learned that he would have support from Obama and practically every leading Democrat in Washington.

Earlier this year, Specter outraged his Republican colleagues by supporting Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program. Specter said at the time that the plan -- which he worked with two other Republicans to trim by more than $100 billion -- was necessary to avert another Great Depression. Toomey jumped in the race after he cast the votes, and Democrats soon stepped up their courtship efforts.

"The stimulus vote was a schism," Specter told reporters yesterday.

A decade ago, Republicans counted nine senators from the 11 states stretching up the Interstate 95 corridor north of the Capitol; today, they have three GOP senators from those states, and one, Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), will retire in 2010.

While Democrats celebrated the surprise move, Republicans alternately blasted Specter as a turncoat who had embraced political expediency over principle, or sank into soul-searching about the future of their party. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a fellow Northeastern moderate, called the news "devastating" for a party that has been unable to appeal to centrist voters.

"Many Republicans feel alienated and disaffected from the party," Snowe said.

Senate Republican leaders appeared ashen after Specter made a brief appearance at their weekly policy luncheon to tell them the news in person. "Obviously, we are not happy that Senator Specter has decided to become a Democrat," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told reporters, attempting to minimize the blow. "This is not a national story. This is a Pennsylvania story," he said.

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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