The announcement today that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter is switching parties is of little significance to New Jersey politics, except that it comes at a time when establishment Republicans are engaged in a fierce battle with conservatives for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Specter’s decision will likely upset some party leaders who view him as the type of Republican who can win a state that is trending Democratic. And his switch will probably evoke a sort of “good riddance, rino” attitude from the conservative wing of the New Jersey GOP.
New Jersey, which hasn’t elected a Republican U.S. Senator since Clifford Case won a fourth term in 1972, has tossed two of their last three GOP Senators before the general election: Albert Hawkes was dumped by party leaders in his bid for a second term in 1948, and Case lost the 1978 GOP primary to conservative Jeffrey Bell. And New Jersey Republicans have tossed one of their last three GOP Governors: incumbent William Cahill was ousted in the 1973 primary by Charles Sandman, a conservative Congressman. (Another Republican Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, has been battling conservatives in a bid to keep moderates in the Republican Party.)
Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party leaves New Jersey without a Republican U.S. Senator representing a border state for the first time since 1856.