While she didn’t spend the past five years badgering Arlen Specter to switch parties like Joe Biden has, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim points out that Hillary Clinton actually deserves much of the credit for ultimately forcing the Pennsylvania senator’s hand. Back during the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama’s sweep of eleven straight February contests, plus a draw in March, put the nomination realistically out of reach for Hillary. But Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary had enough delegates at stake that maybe, by some miracle, she could close the gap with a sweeping victory there. So Pennsylvania became a do-or-die state, and for weeks the two multimillionaires drank beers and told folksy anecdotes to fool Keystone Staters into believing they were actually blue-collar Joe Six-Packs all the while registering voters into the Democratic Party, many of whom were moderates formerly registered as Republicans.
We know what happened next — Hillary won, but not by enough, and the primary slogged on forever. But Hillary’s decision to fight out the Pennsylvania primary had moved hundreds of thousands of moderates out of the Republican Party, making the GOP that remained more conservative — and therefore more hostile to Specter — than before. This is partly why recent polls showed Specter losing by wide margins to his announced primary challenger, the more conservative Pat Toomey, and why, finally, by his own admission, Specter decided to save his hide by switching parties. So while Hillary’s determination, at one point in time, was a giant pain in the ass for Candidate Obama, about a year later it provided President Obama with a 60th vote in the Senate, boosting the prospects of his audacious agenda, at least a little. It’s kind of beautiful, actually.