US senator says he is switching to Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter disclosed plans Tuesday to switch parties, a move that will push Democrats closer to total control of the U.S. Senate.

Specter's switch is a huge boost for President Barack Obama as he tries to advance his agenda on energy policy, health care reform and other issues. With 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, Obama's fellow Democrats could stop Republican filibusters — stalling tactics used to delay or defeat legislation.

Specter would give Democrats at least 59 Senate seats. There is one vacancy from state of Minnesota, where Democrat Al Franken holds a narrow lead in a race still being disputed in courts.

"I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," Specter said in a statement posted on a Web site devoted to Pennsylvania politics and confirmed by his office. Several Senate officials said a formal announcement could come later in the day or Wednesday.

Specter, 79, and a veteran of 30 years in the Senate, is one of a handful of Republican moderates remaining in Congress in a party now dominated by conservatives. Several officials said the White House as well as leaders in both parties had been involved in discussions leading to his move.