Senate Leader Plays Down Specter Impact

April 29, 2009|By James Oliphant | James Oliphant,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -Standing before the cameras and the klieg lights Tuesday, Mitch McConnell kept a brave face.

"I do not accept that we are going to be a regional party," the Senate's Republican leader said.

McConnell was speaking as the captain of a ship that continues to take on water. And Sen. Arlen Specter's defection, which may give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, may be a sign that it's time to break out the buckets.

Still, McConnell played down Specter's choice, calling it a purely political gambit and not reflective of the state of his party as a whole.

"This is not a national story," McConnell said. "This is a Pennsylvania story about his inability to be re-nominated by the Republican Party or be elected as an independent." It's a decision, however, that leaves the Senate with no GOP representation in the Northeast save for Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who is retiring, and moderates Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in Maine - both of whom joined with Specter in deserting their GOP colleagues to support President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.

While some like McConnell refused to view Specter's move as an occasion for soul-searching, others in his party had a different take.

"I do think our party needs to make clear that centrists are welcome," said Maine's Collins.

"The Republican Party has been most successful when it's adopted the big tent approach of Ronald Reagan," Collins said.

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