Sen. Arlen Specter next faces the voters a little over one year from now, on May 18, 2010.
We don't know what the mood of the country will be in one year. Two weeks ago, few people had heard of swine flu. Like the guy suing Chuck DeVore says, in a New York minute, everything can change.
But we can reasonably assume that unemployment will remain high for the remainder of the year. And quite a few economists think unemployment will remain high in 2010. (By the way, swine flu is already hitting the tourism and travel sectors and the Mexican economy. If the outbreak gets worse, the economic impact will be worse.)
President Obama's approval rating is still pretty darn high, averaging 62 percent and ranging from 56 percent to 68 percent in recent polls. But it seems reasonable to assume that if the country has something resembling double-digit unemployment in 2010, Obama's approval rating isn't likely to be higher a year from now than it is now. President Obama will have a harder time arguing that the country's economic problems are the fault of his predecessor; some of those who voted for him will begin to wonder when they'll start to see tangible improvements in their lives.
The one scenario we can probably reject is the idea that in May 2010, President Obama and the stimulus bill will be popular with GOP primary voters. Thus, Pat Toomey was always going to have a key winning issue against Specter.
Arlen Specter has made the right decision to win reelection right now; the problem is, he doesn't face the voters right now. He faces Democratic voters in May 2010, and he faces Pennsylvanians as a whole in November 2010. Right now, being a Democrat and being affiliated with President Obama is a winning hand in Keystone State politics. Today, Arlen Specter bet his next term that the political environment won't change significantly in the next 18 months.
We will see. But it is very, very rare for a political environment to remain in stasis for an 18-month period.