The newest member of the Democratic Party, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said his decision to switch parties was motivated by what he viewed as his dismal prospects in the Republican primary in 2010, for which he blamed far-right activists whose interests were not those of the party as a whole -- and whom he faulted for the GOP's loss of control in Congress in 2006.
Appearing on CBS News' Face The Nation, Specter said that the party should stop listening to far-right activists like the Club for Growth, which has campaigned against (and sometimes helped defeat) moderate Republicans in primary races, thereby weakening the party's chances in the general election by fielding far-right candidates.
Specter (left) said his vote to pass President Obama's stimulus bill caused a "precipitous drop" in support among right-wing GOP members.
"The prospects were very bleak to win the Republican primary," Specter said. Knowing that right-wing conservatives were more likely to participate in primary voting, Specter said, "I simply was not going to put my 29-year record before the Republican primary electorate."
Asked if the Senator's party switch would "mutate" and encourage other Senators to jump over to the President's party, Specter said instead, "It would be my hope that this would be a wake-up call, and the party would move to a broader big tent."
Host Bob Schiefferasked what Specter believes is the problem with the Republican Party today.
"I would tell the party to take the advice of Olympia Snowe," who wrote a scathing New York Times op-ed earlier this week in which she said the party had failed to learn lessons from the 2001 defection of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords and be more -- not less -- inclusive.
Specter said the GOP should "try to bring back the party to the Reagan big tent," advocating more diversity.
"I was sorry to disappoint many people," he said of Republicans who had voted for him out of party loyalty. "Frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party did not want me as their candidate."
He added that, "as a matter of principle I am becoming much more comfortable with the Democrats' approach."
While Specter's switch has generated expectations that the Democrats would gain a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority (pending the outcome of the Minnesota race), Schiefferasked the Senator to outline legislative areas where he would not necessarily go along with the Democratic caucus or side with President Obama.
Citing his independence, Specter said that he disagrees on the issue of employee choice -- legislation important to many labor unions.
President Obama allegedly told Specter that he would be looking for the new Democrat's advice, particularly regarding issues on which they do not agree.
On President Obama's pending nomination to fill retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter's seat, Specter supported a broader range of experience on the Court and said the future Justice should represent minorities.
"I would like to see more diversity," he said. "I think another woman. Ultimately maybe now we need a Hispanic; African Americans are underrepresented."
"Would you favor anyone who was not pro-choice on the issue of abortion?" Schieffer asked.
"I would not use a litmus test, Bob," Specter responded, noting that he had supported Justices Rhenquist, Scalia, Ginsberg and Breyer, who have ruled on opposite sides of the abortion issue.
He said he would not support someone who was not mainstream.
"I would like to see someone with broader experience," he said, arguing that all of the current Justices came from the Appeals Court which he said limits their breadth of experience.
"I'd like to see more diversity," he said. "I think another woman would be good. I think that ultimately maybe now we need an Hispanic. African-Americans are underrepresented."
Specter also said that he could envision, and could support, someone who was not a lawyer for the opening seat, acknowledging that there is no Constitutional requirement that a Supreme Court Justice be an attorney.
Surprisingly, after complaining that some party stalwarts are ready to vote him out of office over a single vote, Senator Specter admitted that he himself does not agree with all of the estimated 10,000 votes he has cast during his career.
When nudged by Schiefferto reveal which of his votes he regrets, Specter demurred, hastening to add that he is comfortable with his votes on the big issues.
More from Face The Nation (5.03.09):
To watch Senator Specter's appearance on Face The Nation click on the video player below.