Toomey Loses Heartbreaker:Santorum, Bush Help Specter Win

Our Assistant Editor David Freddoso reports from Pennsylvania where he was following the campaign of conservative Rep. Pat Toomey in his GOP senate primary race against liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter.

FOGELSVILLE, Pa. — After running a smart and disciplined grassroots campaign, conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) lost a heartbreakingly close Senate primary last night by just over one percentage point against liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.).

Toomey’s supporters waited into the early morning to watch the results, which became confused at one point when 95,000 votes were accidentally added to Specter’s total from Bucks County. After losing all hope, they erupted into cheers when Congressmen John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) made an appearance, just as the local news channel corrected the totals, narrowing the gap to fewer than 5,000 votes.

But their hopes were dashed once again when the final precincts in Montgomery County put Specter ahead by about 15,000 votes after midnight.

After Toomey’s concession, his supporters quietly expressed anger at the GOP establishment, upon which Specter relied almost entirely for his get-out-the-vote effort. They also grumbled at what they saw as excessive support for Specter given by certain national and local conservatives.

For example, President Bush’s campaign visit one week out from the election provided Specter with the footage for his most effective television advertisement of the campaign. The ad, titled “Three for Pennsylvania,” featured the President’s enthusiastic endorsement of Specter from the previous Monday. Also appearing in that ad was conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), who angered many of his conservative fans by backing Specter with such surprising zeal.

“It was Santorum and Bush that did it,” remarked John Rodgers, a lawyer from Wilkes-Barre who had driven an hour to attend Toomey’s election party at the Holiday Inn here. Given the closeness of the race, the active support of these two conservatives was certainly decisive in helping the pro-abortion, economic moderate Specter survive this challenge from the right.

While some conservatives, such as Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), paid only lip service to Specter’s cause, Santorum, Bush, and others, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), went out of their way to raise money and stump for the 24-year liberal incumbent when he appeared most vulnerable.

Rodgers said he was not sure whether conservatives–especially pro-lifers–would support 74-year-old Specter in the general election. He made particular mention of the fact that Specter would enter what will likely be a final, lame-duck term in the Senate as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, prompting conservative fears that he will now have a free pass to obstruct conservative judges and work behind the scenes to make Bush appoint moderates.

“I don’t know personally what I’m going to do,” Rodgers said of the general election. “If I was sure the Republicans could pick up the Southern Senate seats that were open, I’d almost be willing to hold my nose and vote for Specter’s Democratic opponent, [Rep. Joe] Hoeffel [D.-Pa.]. The thought of two Supreme Court nominees going through Specter doesn’t make me happy.”

If Specter loses his re-election bid in November and Republicans manage to keep their Senate majority, conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) would be next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” said Nathan Rohrer, 25, explaining why he would definitely be voting for Specter in November. “Probably still because he’s a party person, he may do certain things.” Perhaps noticing the vagueness of his own statement, Rohrer shrugged and added, “Well, he doesn’t excite me or anything.”

Toomey was conciliatory in his concession speech, emphasizing his support for President Bush and the importance of party unity. “We have to respect and honor the decision the people have made,” said Toomey. Noting that he and Specter had great differences of opinion, he added, “Despite those differences, I have no difficulty supporting him now.”

But some of his supporters were less certain. “Specter has won re-election several times, so I can’t really speak for what conservatives will do,” said Maudeania Hornik, a homemaker from Easton, Pa. “But I’ve never voted for him, if that tells you anything.”