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Aug 4 / Jonathan

The Specter of Losing an Election

About a week ago, Nate Silver posted an interesting piece on Arlen Specter’s recent voting behavior. Here’s the most interesting graph:

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The key events on the timeline were the Quinnipiac poll, which shows Specter losing badly to a right-wing Republican challenger, Specter’s subsequent switch to the Democratic Party, and finally the prospect of a primary challenge from the left.

First, it’s apparent that Specter’s votes are driven overwhelmingly by a desire to be reelected. My sense is that Specter is a likely winner in the general election against either potential opponent, so his strategy is to focus entirely on the primary.

A commenter writes:

Well, at least Specter is responsive to the voters. That’s more than can be said for senators like Max Baucus, who seems to be working solely for the insurance companies. Baucus, unfortunately, has 5 more years before having to worry about re-election so he can continue rolling in the favors from big insurance to get his friends positions as healthcare lobbyists, popular will be damned.

I don’t think that the comparison is necessarily apt. Baucus is a long ways from his election, and voters have short memories, so who’s to say what he’ll do in 2–3 years? And if we assume that Baucus is as driven by the desire for reelection as Specter, then, given his situation, his best strategy might well be to ensure a steady supply of campaign funds, rather than worry too much about a challenge from the left in Montana.

You can’t win a Senate, or even a House, election without a big pot of money, and without getting through a primary (well, Lieberman only needed the former, but his case is exceptional). And the more competitive a seat is, the more a senator or house member is motivated to be “flexible” in their voting, to ensure a steady stream of cash or primary voters, as needed.

What a system.

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