Sen. Arlen Specter last night made his first local appearance in Philadelphia as a Democrat since switching to the GOP early in his political career, attending an annual fundraising dinner for statewide Democratic candidates at a local Sheet Metal Workers union hall in south Philadelphia. And Specter was greeted warmly by the Democrats gathered there, despite some rumblings in the crowd about his stated opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.
"He got a very warm response," Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) said. Brady has chaired the semi-annual dinner for 24 years and introduced Specter last night. "You know, he's no stranger to us."
"People do know who he is, and he called me and asked if he could come to our dinner. I introduced him...I asked them to give him a warm Philadelphia welcome, and they did," Brady said.
Specter delivered brief remarks to the crowd and received applause--though not raucous applause--according to Joe Rispo, political director for the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, which hosted the event.
"I think it was well received," Rispo said. "Everyone clapped--it wasn't over the top."
"There was definitely a lot of talk in the crowd amongst myself and other people saying, 'Hey, where you at with the Employee Free Choice Act?' but it was nothing that was yelled out or mean spirited," Rispo said when asked if audience members raised the topic.
Specter dealt a blow to organized labor this year when he said, in a speech on the Senate floor, that he would vote against the Employee Free Choice Act as it stands. The bill would make it easier for workers to form unions by allowing them to do so via sign-up cards, rather than in secret-ballot elections that can be mandated by employers. Labor, including Rispo's local union, have historically supported Specter as a Republican.
Whether that support will continue has yet to be seen, and some have speculated that liberals and/or labor unions in the state will support a primary opponent. As of now Rep. Joe Sestak, another moderate, is the only other option.
Rispo guessed that attendance at the dinner was around 1,000; Brady remarked offhand that it was around 2,000.