Specter Switch Fulfills Rendell's Wish

By CQ Politics, CQ Politics - April 29, 2009

Including Arlen Specter, how many current senators switched parties while in office?

Sen. Arlen Specter 's relationship with Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell dates back almost as far as his 43-year fling with the Republican Party.

It was in 1968 that Specter hired Rendell to work under him in the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

They moved into houses on the same street in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, where Princess Grace of Monaco was raised.

And, in 1998, Rendell, who was then mayor of Philadelphia, heaped praise on Specter at a public event so Specter's campaign staff could get tape of what amounted to an unofficial endorsement.

It has long been Rendell's wish that Specter join the Democratic fold.

So, it must have come as a great relief "” if a bit of a surprise "” when President Obama called Rendell Tuesday morning to tell him that Specter had decided to switch parties.

"Over the years, they've both been very up-front about it that Rendell wanted Specter to become a Democrat,"� said Larry Ceisler, a public relations executive who owns the Web site where Specter chose to break his news.

When they spoke by phone on Tuesday, Rendell told Specter he would try to coordinate Democratic officials in Pennsylvania and Washington to help clear the primary field for his buddy, Specter said. And within the past few months, Rendell offered to raise money for Specter if only the senator would switch parties.

"Gov. Rendell said if I became a Democrat, he would help me raise money. And I responded if I became a Democrat, I wouldn't need him to help me raise money,"� Specter said. "I've changed my mind about that, though."�

Obama, Rendell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., have said they will endorse Specter's candidacy.

An open endorsement of Specter will be unfamiliar territory for Rendell. But helping out his friend is nothing new.

John Ullyot, a former Specter aide who now works at Hill and Knowlton, says Rendell was happy to lend a hand in 1998 as Specter campaigned against Democrat Bill Lloyd but did not want to cross his own party.

So, as the date neared for a joint press conference on a local project, Rendell made clear that if he was asked about Specter he would say what he thought.

Sure enough, Rendell was asked about Specter, and the senator's campaign staff made the most of the moment by capturing it on tape.

"He was giving over-the-top praise, and we just dropped it into a campaign ad,"� Ullyot recalled.

This time around, Rendell will be able to look straight into the camera and deliver an official endorsement.

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