In reporting the decision of Senator Specter to the Democratic party most of the articles touch on the fact that he has been a member of the Senate for 29 years. In reflecting on his remarks about the increasingly narrow base of the Republican party it might be worth our time to take a look back at the origins of his career.
He was first elected to the US Senate in 1980, the year of the Ronald Reagan landslide. That sweeping victory brought the Republicans to control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years. But just what was that Senate Republican Caucus like ?
Well looking to New England we find that out of 12 US Senators in the region, 6 of them were Republicans. People like John Chaffee of Rhode Island, Robert Stafford of Vermont, William Cohen of Maine and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut were right in line with Specter, solid Republican moderates. The only state without a Republican Senator was Massachusetts and they had elected a liberal named Edward Brooke up until 1978.
During the same period we had moderates like Mathais of Maryland, Hatfield of Oregon, Heinz of Pennsylvania, Percy of Illinois, Durenburger of Minnesota and Roth of Delaware. The same diversity was true in the House, with a large and influential moderate delegation of ‘Gypsy Moth’ Republicans.
At the same time, the early signs of the modern purity tests were starting to surface. In New Jersey a popular moderate Republican named Clifford Case had won four terms in the Senate but he was not pure enough for the right so they bet him in the 1978 primary. The result was Senator Bill Bradley (D). Since that time we have not seen any Republican Senators win elections in New Jersey.
As I indicated in a previous post, I do understand the desire of people in both parties to have candidates who match their own views. But winning an election with a 60% match is better than losing it with a perfect one.
By the way when it came to conservative icon Ronald Reagan….. he campaigned for and supported every single person on the list, because he recognized the need for a broad based GOP.