Specter Touting Clout
WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Holding tightly to a furry backpack as it flaps in the brisk breeze, Julie May stands in front of the local courthouse beaming after a surprise encounter with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in the midst of her errands Thursday afternoon.
The middle-aged mother has just thanked Specter personally for the first time for his assistance in her fight to get her parents buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Now, almost 20 years later, she has the opportunity to return the favor by helping him out in his own battle.
She and her husband, both registered Democrats, recently re-registered as Republicans in order to vote for Specter in the April 27 primary, when he faces off against Rep. Pat Toomey (R).
“It meant a lot to me,” May says, recalling the help she received from Specter’s office. “He will always have my support. I think he’s a very good moderate Republican and we don’t have a lot of them anymore in the Senate and I think that we need that.”
Just down the street from the West Chester courthouse, small business owner Jean Swisher has a very different view of the Senator’s constituent service.
Swisher, who has a George W. Bush for President sticker displayed in the window of the small sewing and alterations shop she has operated here for 23 years, is a die-hard Republican.
But as she proudly shows off the pictures and other memorabilia from a visit to Crawford, Texas (where the president’s ranch is located), tacked to the bulletin board in her shop she explains why she’s not planning to vote in the primary.
“Specter does not worry about me until it comes time to get elected,” she explains. “It seems to me he’s more interested in pleasing the people in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and those of us in the middle get lost until it becomes a ‘vote for me.’”
While Swisher isn’t planning to vote for Specter, she isn’t going to vote against him either. Toomey, she says, “has no experience” and if Specter ultimately wins the primary, she concedes that she’ll hold her nose and vote for him in November.
“Specter has clout,” she admits.
Ideology and the power to get things done have taken center stage in what has been dubbed a battle for the soul of the Republican Party between Specter and Toomey, a three-term Congressman from the Lehigh Valley.
Clout is just one of the three c-words (courage and conviction are the others) that Specter brandishes as his campaign slogan, but it is without a doubt the one that Specter highlights most on the stump.
While Toomey has made ideological differences the centerpiece of his campaign, Specter is putting his seniority and ability to deliver for the state front and center in his bid for an unprecedented fifth term.
“This seniority isn’t just Arlen Specter’s, it belongs to the people of Pennsylvania,” he tells a group of employees gathered at RR Donnelley, a manufacturing company in Lancaster.
Even as Toomey and an array of conservative groups have lambasted Specter as the most frivolous and wasteful of all Congressional spenders, Specter is blatant and deliberate as he describes how he has steered vital resources to the state from his perch on the Appropriations Committee.
At a breakfast meeting Thursday with the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Specter has a ready response to a question about whether there is federal interest in a Philadelphia port project.
“Well, if you have a Senator on the Appropriations Committee, the answer is yes,” he said.
Later that evening, at the Montgomery County GOP spring reception in Norristown, Specter addresses the criticism of his spending habits head on.
“Some people criticize me, my opponent does, for bringing resources to Pennsylvania,” he said, before ticking off funds he’s delivered for highways, schools, and healthcare. “Some people call that pork. Well I think they need a reappraisal from the pig society of America.”
The state would stand to reap an even bigger windfall if Specter, 74, eventually ascends to the Appropriations chairmanship, a position he’ll be next in line for if he wins in November, he reminds audiences, although he declines to mention that the prize wouldn’t likely be his for six years.
He also points out that if re-elected he’ll chair the Judiciary Committee next year and the event in West Chester was one of two Specter held Thursday to highlight Senate Democrats current blockade of all judicial nominees.
Toomey’s campaign called Specter’s events hypocritical.
“Few Senators have blocked as many conservative judicial nominees as liberal Arlen Specter,” Toomey campaign spokesman Joe Sterns said. “His trip around the state lamenting the ill fate of conservative judicial nominees is the height of hypocrisy and a deep insult to Republicans who know the truth about his record.”
Toomey, with the help of the Club for Growth, has worked aggressively to paint Specter as a free-spending liberal who works against the president and the Republican Party more than he works for them.
“I represent the Republican wing of the Republican Party,” Toomey said when the two met in the only debate of the campaign earlier this month. “It is very hard to dispute — whether you are talking about economic, business, social, cultural or legal issues — that Sen. Specter has a long history of voting with liberals.”
Specter, meanwhile, has dubbed his opponent an “extremist ideologue” who “makes Senator [Rick] Santorum [R-Pa.] look like a liberal.”
While acknowledging he’s in a tough fight, he tells audiences that it’s one “well within my pay grade.”
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll in the race showed Specter with a 15 point lead over Toomey, who still had a way to go to unify conservative voters, the polling suggested.
While he rarely, if ever, addresses Toomey by name, Specter routinely invokes the Club for Growth and its publicly stated desire to defeat him in order to intimidate other moderates in the chamber.
“If they win, there’ll be no Republican Party,” Specter said, arguing that moderates are essential to the preservation of the two party system.
“A center is important for the Republican Party, obviously, but it’s also important for the country to have a center of the Republican Party,” he tells reporters after the Chamber breakfast. “We can’t function on a two-party system that is predominated by extremes on both sides.”
The Club for Growth has helped to steer an estimated $800,000 to Toomey’s campaign coffers, in addition to spending more than $1 million on ads attacking Specter. Toomey had spent $2.3 million as of April 7, and had $1.2 million on hand as of that date.
Specter, meanwhile, had spent $7 million since January and had $4.6 million on hand as of the pre-primary report filing cutoff.
Aside from his large war chest and the powers of incumbency, Specter biggest asset has been the unified backing of the Republican establishment, and most importantly President Bush.
Bush will be in Pittsburgh today to stump for Specter, who never misses an opportunity to tell audiences that he has the president’s support.
“I bring you greetings from the president,” he tells the RR Donnelley employees, before delivering his standard Air Force One joke for the second time today.
“I’m going to tell you, if you get the chance to ride on Air Force One, don’t turn it down,” he says to scattered chuckles from the crowd.
Specter also has the support of his colleague Santorum, a leading figure in conservative circles, as well as the backing of the Senate GOP leadership.
In recent weeks Specter has paraded a laundry list of top party officials before television cameras and voters in the state, parrying Toomey’s best efforts to pigeonhole his foe.
As Toomey held a tax day rally Thursday with representatives from the National Taxpayer’s Union and the American Conservative Union — two groups that have endorsed his campaign — Specter attended two tax and trade forums with Treasury Secretary John Snow.
Specter tells audiences Monday’s visit will be Bush’s 27th trip to the state this year, and makes an argument for how he can help Bush win the key battleground state in November.
While Bush won’t win the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia, Specter says that if he’s on the ballot, he could help keep the president’s losing margins down there.
Although publicly Democrats say the Pennsylvania race will be key to determining control of the Senate come November, privately party strategists admit that their chances of winning hinge largely on Specter’s defeat in the primary. Rep. Joe Hoeffel is the likely Democratic nominee.
Specter’s campaign, as well as the Republican Main Street Partnership, have made efforts to re-register voters — asking Democrats to become Republicans — a centerpiece of their efforts.
The RMSP announced last week it was spending $200,000 on an ad buy and field other efforts on behalf of Specter.
With little other activity on the GOP ballot, low voter turnout is expected across the state,
Voter apathy worries former state Sen. Bob Rovner (R), a longtime Specter supporter who chaired “Youth for Specter” when the Senator first ran for Philadelphia district attorney in 1965.
“The Toomey supporters are passionate, and they’re going to come out no matter what,” Rovner said. “The traditional Republicans who would all vote for Specter, won’t come out until November.”