Locked in a tight Democratic Senate primary battle, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has been taking some heat in recent days over his party switch last year.
Things got even more awkward when he faced off with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews today, and Matthews got him to admit that’s he’s voted for Republican presidential candidates for approximately the last 40 years — including in 2008.
Matthews showed Specter’s latest TV ad featuring President Obama endorsing the former Republican. Matthews asked Specter if he’s going to vote for Obama next time.
“Absolutely,” said Specter. “I joined his team.” He added that “when that vote came up on the stimulus, I knew it was the end of my association with the Republican Party. For years they called me a RINO, a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ because I had voted with the Democrats more often than with the Republicans on the big issues.”
Matthews wasn’t having any of this, and pressed Specter on his presidential voting record over the years. Specter admitted that he voted for McCain in 2008, and other Republicans in the election years leading up to 2008, explaining that “when I was trying to reform and moderate the Republican party, I was supporting Republicans, trying to bring them back to the center.”
“When that schism broke,” he said, “I returned to my roots,” noting that he voted for Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy as well, and that he always supported and voted for Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor.
Matthews moved on, describing how he himself writes “19 instead of 20 sometimes by accident, because I’m not used to the 21st century yet,” and suggesting that this was akin to Specter’s occasional slip-ups — when he calls himself a Republican instead of a Democrat. He showed some clips of Specter making that mistake.
“You have cited three instances, but 853 other times I said Democrat,” Specter retorted. “I’m not a professional communicator like Chris Matthews,” and “occasionally I misspeak.”
But, said Specter, “take a look at what I’ve voted for.”
The current TPM Poll Average shows Specter leading Rep. Joe Sestak 43.6%-40.9%, leading up to the May 18 primary.