Conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) will challenge liberal Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) in the GOP Senate primary next April.
Toomey, who had limited himself to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives when he first ran for his historically Democratic seat in 1998, announced his intention to run against Specter in an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS last Wednesday.
The contest, he said, will be strictly one of philosophy. "He is a liberal and I am a conservative," said Toomey. "That’s what this is all about."
Toomey attracted the attention of conservatives nationwide last year when he ran a parliamentary guerrilla war-joined by other young House conservatives-to fight pork-barrel spending measures favored by House appropriators.
In his 22 years in the Senate, Specter has veered to the left on a broad range of issues important to conservatives, including taxes, spending, labor issues, judicial nominees, abortion, and gun rights. Conservatives remember Specter most vividly for the lead role he took in defeating President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. They also recall his notorious invocation of "Scottish law" in voting that the patently obvious impeachment articles against President Clinton were "not proved."
One position Specter took that found favor with conservatives-and that he’s certain to mention frequently in his battle with Toomey-was his staunch defense of Clarence Thomas in 1991, including tough questioning of Thomas opponent Anita Hill.
More recently, Specter has led the way in supporting experimental human cloning, co-sponsoring a bill that allows human beings to be cloned as long as they are later destroyed in experimentation.
Specter has never faced a serious primary challenge. Toomey, a sitting member of the House of Representatives who is a proven vote winner, is likely to give him one.
Toomey rejected the notion that Republicans will feel compelled to support Specter in order to hold onto their narrow Senate majority. He insisted that he would be the stronger candidate in a general election, especially because of his philosophical compatibility with President Bush-who will be on the 2004 general election ballot.
"Because I am such a strong proponent of the President’s agenda, and Sen. Specter is an obstruction to the President’s agenda, the President and I will reinforce each others’ messages," said Toomey. He said that he expects his presence on the ballot to motivate conservatives to vote, thus helping Bush win Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes. Bush narrowly lost Pennsylvania to Al Gore in 2000.
Specter himself is by no means a shoo-in if Pennsylvania Democrats field a strong candidate. Although he had an easy victory in 1998 over an unknown Democrat, Specter barely squeaked out a 2% victory over Lynn Yeakel (D.) in 1992.
Toomey also argued that his election to the Senate would help Republicans fully implement conservative ideas at a time when an all-GOP government will bear the entire political responsibility for federal policies.
"The American people perceive [Republicans] to be in control, and they expect us to advance our agenda," he said, citing issues such as human cloning, tax cuts, spending reductions and Social Security reform. "If we don’t deliver, then I think that the American people will take the congressional majority away from us. That is a huge risk to our party and to the conservative movement, when for the first time in our lifetimes, we have a chance to advance that agenda."
Toomey is badly behind in campaign fundraising. (In the most recent reports to the Federal Election Commission he had $663,000 cash on hand compared to Specter’s nearly $6 million.) But he may be able to compensate for Specter’s financial advantage by other means.
For example, Pennsylvania’s closed primary system will allow only registered Republicans to choose between the liberal and the conservative candidate in spring 2004. Toomey will also benefit from the intensity of the party’s conservative base, which can provide him with highly motivated volunteers and supporters who are more likely than moderates to go out and vote. Conservative issues groups, seeing a chance to replace a liberal Republican with a solid conservative, also might invest in independent expenditures.
Specter, who has a history of ideological fence-straddling-changing his vote from year to year on issues such as campaign finance reform and partial-birth abortion-will have to motivate a more diffuse coalition of supporters.
Congressional sources said Toomey is not discouraged by the fact that both President Bush and Pennsylvania’s other Republican senator, Rick Santorum, will be backing Specter at least nominally in the upcoming race.
Some conservatives see a parallel between this pending Toomey-Specter match-up and the 1980 primary between four-term liberal Republican Sen. Jacob Javits (N.Y.) and the then-unknown Long Island town supervisor, Alfonse D’Amato. D’Amato, running as a staunch conservative, defeated Javits by 13 points. In the general, D’Amato followed the tide of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan to victory.