Toomey Gains on Specter In Pennsylvania Primary

Conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) is closing the gap against liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) in his bid to unseat Specter in Pennsylvania’s April 27 Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Toomey remains the underdog. But a series of polls have placed him at least within striking distance as the campaign enters its final three weeks. Among likely primary voters, Toomey had climbed from oblivion to 33% in the March 31 Keystone poll, against Specter’s 46%. Other recent surveys have placed him nine and ten points behind, with Specter polling consistently below 50%.

The polls indicate that Toomey’s attacks on Specter’s left-of-center voting record on issues such as abortion, human cloning, tort reform, school vouchers, and taxes, are resonating with Republicans. They also show Specter with surprisingly soft re-elect numbers — as low as 36% statewide according to a Quinnipiac poll in mid-March.

The polls also agree that Toomey has relatively low name recognition among registered Republicans — 51% say they have not heard of him — and that a large number of voters remain undecided. While this poses a problem for Toomey, it also demonstrates he has plenty of upside potential.

He will gain some exposure April 3, when he debates Specter on statewide television. Toomey’s campaign has $2 million cash on hand, Federal Election Commission records show, which Toomey told HUMAN EVENTS will be used for an advertising blitz in the closing weeks of the campaign. “We knew that we weren’t going to have as much money as Sen. Specter, and so we’ve saved it for the end,” he said.

A Toomey campaign aide told HUMAN EVENTS that Toomey would also have an extensive ground game, with over 10,000 unpaid volunteers signed up statewide.

Specter has an impressive $9.2 million left to spend, but lacks strong grassroots support. HUMAN EVENTS obtained two emails from his campaign offering to pay volunteers $75 per day. Specter’s campaign manager, Chris Nicholas, did not respond to phone inquiries.

The Liberal Republican

Specter, who has taken contributions from labor unions, pro-abortion groups and even $1,000 from former Clinton advisor Harold Ickes, has been a liberal Republican throughout his 24 years in the Senate. He even voted against the impeachment of President Clinton in 1999.

The Club for Growth, a conservative economic advocacy group, has run ads in this year’s primary noting that Specter voted with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (D.-Mass.) 70% of the time in 2002. In 2003, Citizens Against Government Waste named Specter Porker of the Year.

Specter’s treatment of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act was typical of his style. After voting for an amendment that would have effectively killed the pro-life bill, he then voted for the bill itself. Similarly, in 2001, he voted with Democrats to scale back President Bush’s first tax cut by $450 billion before voting for the tax cut itself.

Specter is taking the threat from Toomey seriously. As of mid-March he had already spent $5 million on the race, according to FEC records, compared to Toomey’s $1 million. And although it could be attributed to typical incumbent behavior during a tough campaign, Specter has alerted several former staffers that he could lose and has asked for help. One former staffer told HUMAN EVENTS that he and others are in contact now devising ways to help the incumbent.

Attempting to inoculate himself against conservative attacks, Specter secured early endorsements from President Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), who went so far as to appear in a Specter campaign ad.

Specter has also made full use of his legal and labor connections to shore up support on the left. The Transportation Communications International, which has endorsed John Kerry for President, sent voter registration cards to its 3,800 Pennsylvania members urging them to switch to the Republican Party for the primary so they could vote for Specter and then “switch right back after the primary.”

A Test For Conservatives

As Toomey’s campaign gains credibility in polling and fundraising, conservatives nationwide are hoping his campaign will be a show of conservative strength within the Republican Party. Toomey has the support of the Conservative Victory Fund, the National Conservative Campaign Fund, and many other conservative PACs. Conservative publications such as HUMAN EVENTS have closely followed the race, while National Review has had cover stories on both Toomey and Specter.

The race is also important because if Specter wins he will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, becoming doorkeeper for President Bush’s judicial appointees. From that position, conservatives fear, he could pressure Bush to nominate moderates to the Supreme Court, or even single-handedly sink conservative nominations, just as he helped sink President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork in 1987.

This is particularly important because Bush may have two or more Supreme Court vacancies to fill if he wins a second term. The court now has six liberals and only three conservatives. Many on the right fear that a Specter victory could set the pro-life movement back by 20 years and guarantee decades of rulings like last June’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, which created a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy.