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Chafee: Specter’s Departure Just Latest Sign of a GOP Gone Stale

As the GOP loses the Senate seat held by Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who announced today that he’s switching allegiances to the Democrats, former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island says the party has no one to blame but itself.

“The ramifications are huge,” Chafee said of Specter’s exodus Tuesday, “and the main message is that the Republican Party’s not changing.”

Chafee pointed out that it was the conservative Club for Growth’s backing of his primary challenger in 2006 that forced him to rifle through much of his war chest long before he faced Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse, who won the general election by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Similarly, the Club for Growth has backed Specter’s more conservative challenger, the Club’s former President Pat Toomey — support that’s contributed largely to Toomey’s lead in the polls, and Specter’s decision to flee to the Democrats in an attempt to keep his day job.

Such primary challenges, Chafee said, have divided the GOP and contributed to the enormous Democratic gains of the past two elections. “You look ahead to 2010 and it doesn’t look any better,” he said. “What’s the party doing?”

Chafee, now a visiting scholar at Brown University, also predicted that Specter’s flip lends the Democrats enormous advantage — with morale as well as legislation — as party leaders try to move an ambitious legislative agenda this year.

“It’s a numbers game, and the Democrats just got one more,” Chafee said. “[Specter] toed the party line a number of times and he doesn’t have to do that anymore. Now he can toe the Democrats’ line.”

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