Our Assistant Editor David Freddoso is in Pennsylvania following the campaign of conservative Rep. Pat Toomey in his GOP senate primary race against liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter.
ALLENTOWN, PA– “Tomorrow, we’re all going to be part of the biggest upset in Pennsylvania history,” conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) told a cheering crowd of volunteers and supporters last night.
Toomey held his final rally here on the GOP Senate primary election’s eve at the Scottish Rite Center–a coincidence, his aides claimed, although his liberal opponent, Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.), became famous for invoking “Scottish Law” in an attempt to avoid taking a side on whether to remove President Clinton from office in 1999.
Toomey, intelligent and articulate, lacks the charisma of many well polished politicians. But his constantly cheerful attitude, his knowledge of issues, and his discipline in remaining on message have served him well throughout the campaign against Specter, a heavily entrenched incumbent who has outspent him four-to-one.
Toomey’s principled conservative record also produces crowds that will gladly cheer him on without much prompting. The contrast could hardly be greater between the 42-year-old Allentown Congressman and the 74-year-old Specter, whose views on numerous issues–including partial-birth abortion, campaign finance reform, and school choice–have changed repeatedly.
With comparatively little to show in the way of campaign funds, Toomey has run an effective grassroots campaign, drawing thousands of volunteers from in-state and hundreds more from outside. Over the weekend they were making voter phone calls, delivering literature, and leafleting cars in church parking lots with fliers advertising Toomey’s pro-life stance. Toomey’s blue and gold yard signs heavily outnumber those advertising Specter, who has had to pay college volunteers up to $75 per day to “volunteer.”
Since announcing his candidacy last February, Toomey has made no major mistakes on the trail, while Specter has been beset by his poor debate performance April 3 and a series of minor controversies that have kept him off-message in the final days of his campaign.
All of these factors have helped Toomey pull even with Specter, according to a Survey USA poll published yesterday that put both candidates at 48%. The state party’s internal polls reportedly showed identical results, and Toomey’s staff and volunteers were upbeat and confident last night. “We’re really excited to find an alternative to Specter,” said Jasper Ho, a Republican Committeeman from Maxatawny, Pa.
Although turnout is expected to be light with no presidential contest on the ballot–perhaps as low as 20%–passers-by in heavily Republican York, Pa. knew about the race, and several had formed opinions already as of yesterday.
Seventeen-year-old Brad Stump, a Toomey supporter, told HUMAN EVENTS he was looking forward to the November election, in which he will vote for the first time and pull the lever for President Bush.
“My family is behind Toomey,” he said, standing outside the pet store where he works as a cashier. Asked why he was pulling for Toomey, Stump mentioned the candidate’s conservative record on abortion and taxes, but finally said what as many as two-thirds of Toomey supporters have expressed in public polls: “Just, the other guy is a loser.”
For one retired schoolteacher, Dr. James Dobson’s endorsement of Toomey at a rally on Friday was the deciding factor. “I just decided that maybe it’s time for a change,” she said yesterday. She also complained of Specter’s negative ads, one of which even accuses Toomey of voting to allow pornography sales to children. “I just hate to hear people telling lies about each other,” she said. “It just burns me up.”
Another teacher, Liz Stackpoole, said she was backing Specter because he would win and help Bush take Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes in November. “He can beat anybody else the Democrats put up,” she said. “We’ve got to keep the Senate. We’ve got to get rid of the liberals.”
Bush, embracing this same line of reasoning, has vociferously backed Specter, appearing with him last week in Pittsburgh. But Toomey shrugged off the endorsement of Specter by Bush, conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), and most of the state party establishment.
“I think everyone’s entitled to make a mistake,” he said of Bush, prompting laughter at the evening rally. Toomey argued that he can do more than Specter to bring out Bush’s base. He also praised Bush’s leadership.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help him,” he said. “And I can promise you on Wednesday morning, after we win this race, President Bush is going to be supporting Pat Toomey.”
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter