'Last Straw' For Specter, Say Conservatives

What Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Penn.) dubbed the “moderates’ compromise” that he and two other moderate Republican senators voted for Tuesday is fast becoming the “last straw” with the five-termer for conservatives in the Keystone State.

“I consider Sen. Specter a friend and, despite disagreements on a number of issues, I admired his work to confirm [Supreme Court nominees] John Roberts and Samuel Alito,” Pittsburgh businessman Glen Meakem told me today, “But his support of [the $838 billion stimulus package] is too much. Pennsylvania voters are fed up with Specter’s perennial charade.”

Predicting that “there will be a Republican primary fight for Specter’s Senate seat in 2010,” Meakem echoed almost word-for-word the prediction made to me by another prominent conservative two weeks ago. Referring to the 79-year-old Specter’s “very perplexing” behavior in asking tough questions of Obama attorney general nominee Eric Holder and then voting for his confirmation, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) said that “his latest behavior regarding Holder means that Specter should definitely face a primary challenge next year.”

Today Toomey (who drew 48% of the vote against Specter in the ’04 primary) joined Meakem in weighing in against the incumbent’s pivotal support for the Obama-backed economic package. Writing in National Review Online, the former congressman charged that Specter and Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (who also backed the stimulus package), “the Republican party lost the opportunity to pass a true compromise bill that would have encouraged economic growth. By unanimously voting against the stimulus bill, House Republicans empowered Senate Republicans to demand substantive, pro-growth amendments. After all, without sixty votes in the Senate, President Obama would not have been able to pass any bill, good or bad.”

When he had spoken to me about his disappointment with Specter’s votes for Holder, Toomey had also cited his former opponent’s niche as the only Republican senator to vote for “Card-check” — Big Labor’s cherished measure to end the secret ballot in union elections.

Meakem brought up “Card-check” as well, and also said that there will be key votes on abortion coming up in the Senate in which Specter’s position is unclear.

“As the Obama Administration prepares for an effort to make abortion as legal as possible, I don’t know what the senator’s position will be,” said Meakem, “But all of the latest developments are not encouraging.”

Calling the stimulus package “the revenge of the left,” Meakem noted what he called “its trial lawyer provision, which would encourage state attorneys general to federalize actions against companies that have violated health insurance and private accountability acts by deputizing private contingency-based trial lawyers to file suits on behalf of the government.”

So who’s going to take on Specter in the primary next year? Toomey has long signaled that he will run for governor in 2010, when two-term incumbent Ed Rendell must by law step down. Peg Luksik, a former gubernatorial candidate and pro-life leader, and businessman Frank Ryan, have indicated their interest in a race against Specter. But over lunch with my colleagues and me today, a former Republican elected official predicted that “neither is really a first-rate contender and another, stronger candidate will emerge against Arlen.”

When I spoke to Glenn Meakem, I noted that he had a splendid resume (service in the Gulf War with the U.S. Army, degree from Harvard Business School) and success in the private sector (running internet and venture capital companies). Could the 45-year-old businessman make the race against the senator whose defeat he has called for?

“I’m not a candidate at this time,” he told me, “But a race for office may be possible in the future.”