Sen. Specter famously defected from the party that he had been part of for more than 45 years when it became clear that he was going to get his clock cleaned in a Republican primary. Not only did he switch parties, he has moved significantly to the left of where he was when he was a newly minted Democrat. This is the affect of having to still face a primary challenge. He has recently done everything he can to tie himself the Democratic President, even recapitulating his last campaign commercial by basically replacing President Bush saying nice things about him with President Obama doing the same.
In Arizona Sen. McCain has taken the low road to all pander all the time. He has disavowed his maverick brand (which he spent nearly a decade burnishing); he has flip-flopped on his position on immigration reform and has been out there saying every kind of hawkish and crazy thing he can in order to fend off a challenge from Tea-Party darling former U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth.
The other thing that ties these two Senators together is that unlike Connecticut both Arizona and Pennsylvania have so-called "sore loser" laws. These laws prevent anyone who runs for the nomination of a party and looses from then turning around and running as an Independent. Both of those states also have relatively early primary dates; Pennsylvania goes to the polls next week and Arizona just about a month from now. It is entirely possible that both of the sitting Senators will lose their nomination bids, and then the fun could really start.
It is pretty clear that both of them have moved away from what could be called their normal positions, Specter moving left and McCain moving far to the right. The question is, what happens if each finds himself a lame duck with half of a year to go before they are out of politics? Do they keep with their current stands on issues or do they change them?
If they lose they will not be the only Senators that are not returning for the 112th Congress next January, but there is a big difference between choosing to retire and being thrown out by the voters of your own party. Any time one is fired there is the temptation to give the one finger salute to the folks who are kicking you to the curb, and a sitting Senator has far more power to do so than most.
Take a look at the actions of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY). He feels like he was forced out of running for re-election and his actions have often been less than helpful to his caucus. Now Sen. Bunning has never been what one would call the most stable of Senators, but he does show the potential for trouble.
We also have an example of how troubling a vengeful Senator can be in Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). It has been widely reported that he is willing to subvert policy merely because it is supported by liberals. Sen. Lieberman blames liberals in his home state for his defeat in the Democratic Primary against Ned Lamont. It seems that rising above pettiness is not something that is taught in the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World.
Will Senators Specter and McCain become sticks in the wheels of their respective parties if they face the prospect of voter forced retirement? I wish I could say with any kind of certainty yes or no. Sen. McCain has a famous temper and it seems that it has been building since before his nominating convention in 2008 when he was forced by the Republicans not to pick Sen. Lieberman as his running mate. Instead he was had to go with an unqualified pathological liar who was barely qualified to run a small state.
This combined with having to continue to disavow everything he has stood for over his career merely to gain the support of a party he has represented for 28 years seems to have him at a high boil. It is easy to see how he might decide that if the Republicans are going not going to keep him in office, then he might as well make them really regret it. If he is not facing a re-election campaign, then he is a possible vote for comprehensive immigration reform, something that used to be a signature issue for him.
Sen. Specter is harder to judge. When the primary motivating factor for someone is a job they can no longer keep does that motivate them or depress them? Sen. Specter has shown that he is pretty craven on issues. Without strong feelings one way or the other, would he go back to being a Blue Dog style Senator like Ben Nelson (D-NB) or will he try to push something, anything that can be considered a legacy? This is probably the way that he will go, since he ruined having a Republican legacy by switching parties and he would have only a short time to create a Democratic legacy. Without that all he will be known for is the switch of parties and that has to taste like ashes in his mouth. This would bode well for his strong support of things like immigration reform and the climate/energy bill.
This could be quite the long lame duck session. If these Senators McCain and Specter are not nominated that would bring the total number of Senators not running for re-election to 15, which is a pretty big percentage of the total Senate. It could very well turn out that the lame ducks become wild ducks and the conventional wisdom of what will and won't pass in the Senate could be turned on its head.
The floor is yours.