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Specter's Seniority Fight Threatens His Re-election

3:01 PM, Apr 30, 2009 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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It seems that one of the most important parts of Arlen Specter's deal to change parties is the assurance that he won't face a Democratic primary next year. Specter's votes for Justices Alito and Kennedy, his opposition to Card Check, the support he has received from people like George Bush and Rick Santorum -- all make him more vulnerable in a Democratic primary. And at least one heavyweight Democrat -- Representative Joe Sestak -- is not ready to rule out a primary against Specter.

And while Democratic Senators ought to be basking in the glow of their presumed 60-seat majority, it seems that backbiting rules the day instead. Senior Democrats are angry at Specter and Reid:

"I won't be happy if I don't get to chair something because of Arlen Specter," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee with Specter and is fifth in seniority among Democrats behind Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). "I'm happy with the Democratic order but I don't want to be displaced because of Arlen Specter," she said.

One senior Democratic lawmaker told The Hill that the Democratic Conference will vote against giving the longtime Pennsylvania Republican seniority over lawmakers like Harkin, Mikulski and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) when they hold their organizational meeting after the 2010 election.

Specter was elected in 1980, and under his deal with Reid would jump ahead of all but a few Democrats when it comes time to dole out committee chairmanships and assignments.

"That's his deal and not the caucus's," the senior lawmaker said of Reid's agreement with Specter...

Several Democrats believe they did Specter a favor by allowing him to join their caucus and give him a chance to run as a Democrat in 2010.

"He was a cooked goose," said the senior Democrat. "He was going to lose to [former Rep. Pat] Toomey [R-Pa.] and we were going to beat Toomey. We did him a favor by allowing him to remain in the Senate."

Less than 24 hours after Specter announced his party switch, Democrats have already begun to grumble loudly, exchanging phone calls to complain about Reid's gambit, said one participant.

The dispute over Specter's seniority makes it harder to eliminate primary opponents -- and not just because some Democrats Senators may be angry with Specter over his seniority claims.

Most Democrats seem unable to imagine a day when Republicans again compete on a level playing field with Democrats. In a state like Pennsylvania -- which has trended blue -- few are likely to believe that a competitive Democratic primary threatens their hold on Specter's Senate seat. For senators who see Specter as a threat to seniority, the obvious answer would be to encourage a primary challenger. After all, if any Democrat will beat any Republican in that race -- as Democrats seem to think -- then a freshman Democrat Senator is far preferable to a Democratic Senator Specter.