FOGELSVILLE, Pa., April 27 — While supporters of conservative Senate candidate Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) eagerly watched the big screens for returns inside the Holiday Inn here, David Shoemaker, 55, was standing outside the front door, nervously smoking a cigarette.
“Campaigns always make me nervous,” said the retired Allentown policeman, a volunteer for Toomey in every cycle since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 1998. “You always wonder if you should have stuffed one more envelope or made one more phone call, or spent one more minute doing something.”
He may be wondering about this one for the next six years.
After running a smart and disciplined campaign without any major errors, Toomey, who represents this part of eastern Pennsylvania, lost a heartbreakingly close Republican Senate primary against liberal incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, 51% to 49%.
The final margin was just 15,000 votes, meaning that if just one voter at each Pennsylvania polling place had switched to Toomey, then Specter — a pro-abortion, pro-cloning supporter of labor unions and trial lawyers — would be planning his retirement for January 2005.
Toomey’s campaign was a true grassroots effort, run by a youthful band of true believers. “We’re a pretty young group, but even more inexperienced,” joked campaign manager Mark Dion, who estimated that half of the ten full-time staffers were under age 30. “We did this by our shoestrings. . . . We had to prove that we were viable before the real dough started coming.”
Believers vs. The Machine
Outspent nearly four to one by an establishment-backed incumbent, Toomey compensated by attracting more than 10,000 volunteers — mostly young people — to call likely voters, man the polls, and deliver campaign literature. Scores of young Capitol Hill staffers traveled to the state from Washington, D.C., to help in the final days, and thousands of college students skipped class to help in whatever way they could. A handful even watched their GPAs suffer all semester as they volunteered as county coordinators and created and constantly updated pro-Toomey websites.
But in the end, the machine delivered for Specter.
After Toomey’s concession, his supporters quietly expressed anger at the state GOP, upon which Specter relied almost entirely for his get-out-the-vote effort. Specter campaign volunteers were nearly non-existent at polling places on Election Day, but the official party literature urged a vote for the 74-year-old incumbent.
Toomey’s supporters also lamented what they saw as excessive support for Specter by certain national and local conservatives. 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: “I’m here to say it as plainly as I can: Arlen Specter is the right man for the U.S. Senate,” said Bush.
Also appearing in that ad was Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), who has tried hard to style himself as the premier Catholic, pro-life member of the Senate. Santorum lost many conservative fans with his zealous backing of Specter.
“I wrote Rick Santorum a letter to complain after he endorsed Specter,” said Maudeania Hornik, a homemaker from Easton, Pa., who had volunteered for Toomey and lingered at his party after Specter declared victory. “I still haven’t gotten a response, not even an automated response.”
Last week’s Senate primary only added to Santorum’s storied record of making primary endorsements for pro-abortion and even pro-cloning “moderates” in primaries against solid conservatives, despite his own stances on the issues. Hours before Toomey-Specter was decided, two other Santorum-backed moderate Republicans — attorney general candidate Tom Corbett and U.S. House candidate Charlie Dent — celebrated primary election victories over conservatives. In neighboring New Jersey, Santorum endorsed Doug Forrester for U.S. Senate, even though he had a conservative primary opponent in 2002.
“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. Several Harrisburg-area voters cited Santorum’s and Bush’s endorsements when explaining their votes for Specter to HUMAN EVENTS.
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.
‘Hold My Nose’
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 Senate Judiciary Committee. Conservatives fear that he will now have a free pass to obstruct conservative judges and work behind the scenes to make Bush appoint moderate-to-liberal judges who will nullify any legislative advances on cultural or economic issues over the next 20 years.
“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 — or if the Republican Senate conference could be persuaded to snub Specter for the Judiciary chairmanship that ordinarily would be his by virtue of seniority — conservative Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) would be next in line to chair the 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 Hornik. “But I’ve never voted for him, if that tells you anything.”