House of Cards?: ‘Card Check’ vote will be defining issue in 2010 U.S. Senate Primary

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

New polls are showing U.S. Senator Arlen Specter is in for a long, tough slough if he hopes to win re-election and retain his seat in 2010. Polling reported on the Daily Kos web site shows Specter vulnerable in a conservative primary challenge. He is also vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenge in the November General Election. Given the Leftist tilt of Daily Kos, if they are admitting Specter is in trouble it must be so.

None of this is really news. Four years ago then-U.S. Congressman Pat Toomey came within less than a percentage point of defeating Specter in the Republican primary. Specter had little trouble winning in November, but Pennsylvania has slid firmly into the Democratic column since that time. Only state Attorney General Tom Corbett and a couple of Commonwealth court judges have managed to win on the GOP line in recent years. So any GOP nominee, Specter included is expected to have rough sledding in November of 2010.

But, the General election does not matter if you don’t win the primary and that remains the senior senator’s area of greatest vulnerability. And Specter’s ability to be competitive in the 2010 Republican Primary is shaping up to hinge on one vote that will be cast in the Senate early next year: Card Check.

Card Check is the nickname for a legislative initiative that would remove from workers the right to a secret ballot when voting on whether or not to form a labor union at their place of employment. Currently, workers cast their ballots in secret. The rub here is that most of them vote against the unions, so the big labor bosses want everyone’s vote to be cast in public by checking yes or no on a card and then signing their name. That of course opens the door for a wide range of intimidation and thuggery. Thus, it certainly will result in more shops voting to unionize, reversing a decades-long decline in union membership.

Why is Arlen Specter’s vote so important?

In the U.S. Senate it takes 60 votes to cut off debate, and move a bill to the floor for a vote, it’s called invoking cloture. In the now-ending Congress Republicans have prevented cloture on Card Check. Specter, however, voted with the union Democrats. But, the GOP had enough votes to block the Card Check vote even without him.

Such may not be the case in the new Congress. Democrats will hold a minimum of 56 seats, possibly 57 seats if the Minnesota recount goes their way. There are two independents, who line up with the Democrats. Assuming all the Democrats hold together on the Card Check cloture vote, and the two independent senators go along (all likely assumptions), then they get to 58 (or 59 depending on the Minnesota seat) votes on cloture. That means just one, perhaps two, Republican defections and Card Check clears cloture and proceeds to a floor vote. If it is voted on it will pass. If it passes, millions of American workers lose their rights to a private ballot on unionization votes.

And the most likely Republican defector is Senator Arlen Specter.

Few issues animate the party’s conservative base as strongly as does Card Check. But, the animus toward such a vote goes further: the business community would be devastated if it passes. By voting for Card Check cloture, especially if he is the deciding vote, Specter would become a pariah in the business community. Five years ago the mainstream business community largely supported Specter over Toomey. If Specter abandons the party on Card Check, that support will not only evaporate, it will become energized against him.

For Specter the looming Card Check vote is shaping up as the most emotionally intense issue since he roiled the party by voting against the confirmation of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. The resulting firestorm nearly cost him his seat when he came up for re-election in 1992. And, while Specter may covet organized labor’s support in the 2010 General election, a Card Check vote in all likelihood would prevent him from withstanding a strong conservative primary challenge.

As for that primary challenger, there is no word yet from Pat Toomey on what he plans to do. But somewhere, Mr. Toomey has to be smiling.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])

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