06/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Specter Faces Price of Betrayal: Angry Dems, Workers, Primary Challenge

Sen. Arlen Specter's political deathbed conversion to the Democratic Party isn't turning out so well after all. He now finds himself isolated from his new Democratic colleagues, branded as a turncoat who won't support key parts of Obama's agenda, a betrayer of his longtime union supporters over the Employee Free Choice Act -- and he's been stripped of his seniority on committees. Real Clear Politics sums it up:

The White House's "full support." The backing of Senate leadership. The promise to retain his rank. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter appeared to gain a new political world for leaving the party that brought him to national politics. One week later, that world is gone.

Specter now stands alone. Stripped of his rank by Democrats. Scorned by Republicans. Specter's flash of strength has turned to weakness.

That weakness was thrown into stark relief Wednesday night, as Rep. Joe Sestak said in an interview that he was "very seriously" considering challenging Specter in the Democratic primary. There was a renewed energy to Sestak, repeating the phrase "very seriously" as he drove from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.

It was only last week that Sestak appeared blindsided. "You know," Sestak told MSNBC's Chris Matthews Friday with a pang of resignation, "I was thinking of getting in. And I haven't made my final decision."

For many Democratic voters, Specter's flip-flop on the Employee Free Choice Act he once co-sponsored appears to be fueling outrage from union members and their progressive allies. These include not just civil rights organizations, environmentalists and others but netroot activists who met today at AFL-CIO headquarters, vowing to supplement the unions' own grass-roots and online organizing with added efforts from their ranks.

As the AFL-CIO Now blog reported:

Chris Hayes, Washington Bureau chief of the Nation, said it is clear that, despite pronouncements from corporate shills and pundits, the Employee Free Choice Act is very much alive and well. He said he was fascinated by the fact that even after Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter expressed doubt about the bill in March, the campaign from the Chamber of Commerce and its corporate allies kicked into even higher gear, with continued ad spending and talk in the media about compromises on the bill.

[Stewart ]Acuff, special assistant to the AFL-CIO President, agreed, saying the massive spending by corporations fighting the bill cannot change the reality that we're very near victory in the biggest fight for workers' rights in generations.

And in a scathing rebuke of Specter, Tula Connell of the AFL-CIO wrote at Firedoglake:

Specter, who voted for cloture for the Employee Free Choice Act when it was introduced in the Senate in 2007, changed his mind a couple months ago (no, not going there--too easy) and announced he wouldn't vote for cloture this time around. And by gum, even becoming a Democrat--that is, one who ostensibly supports working families--doesn't make a difference for the man on whom all eyes turn.

"I said when I made the switch, I'm still against that bill," Specter said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Democrats are all for it; Republicans are all against it, and I'm the critical vote."

So, here's what we say. In an interview with ABC, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka put it this way:

If a candidate isn't good for workers, we won't be there. If they are good for workers, we will be there regardless of their party. I mean, we supported Arlen Specter--and he was a Republican--because he was good for what was happening. He was good for our members at that time.

See, you can't be a Dem in name only. You have to actually vote like one. Perhaps a Dem like Blue America-backed Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), who's thinking of throwing his hat into the Pennsylvania Senate primary and who--get this--is a House co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. It would be hard to go head to head with Sestak, a three-star Navy admiral with a doctorate in political economy and government from Harvard. But then, it's up to Pennsylvania voters to decide.

Those decisions will be made by people in the state, and our members in the state know who will stand with them. And if Arlen Specter--he stood with them in the past--if he continues to stand with them, they'll support him. If he doesn't, they won't support him....

Specter was all over the place this past week--backing Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman over Democrat Al Franken--then not--voting against President Obama's budget and opposing a public option in health care reform legislation.

So looking to Arlen Specter for guidance on the future of the Employee Free Choice Act, which seems to be the favorite tea-leave reading practice of Washington pundits, may not be as sure a guide as the growing grass-roots campaign to influence wavering Senators. Despite downbeat assessments from some pundits, the legislation is still very much alive.

As Stewart Acuff observed today:

You play the game all the way through. This is a dynamic process, and we're at the 3-yard line--you can't just walk off the field now.

We started this six years ago, and I thought it was going to be a 20-year fight. We've accomplished so much in the face of such attacks, and all the money they've been able to spend has not been able to break it.

The campaign is vibrant and active, and all the forces of corporate America can't stop it--and they've tried everything in their playbook.