Specter v. Toomey, again? Pennsylvania Will Be Tough For a Conservative to Win

"Card-check" vote could prove critical for incumbent moderate Republican.

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By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Jennifer Rubin notes that Pat Toomey, who got 49 percent of the vote in the 2004 Republican primary against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, is now saying that he is interested in running against Specter again (after saying for some months that he wanted to run for governor instead). His gripe and that of many conservatives is that Specter voted for the stimulus package.

Rubin notes the argument made by Specter backers that he is the only Republican who can hold the seat. I find that argument stronger than she does, and stronger than it was in 2004. That year George W. Bush lost Pennsylvania by only 51 percent-48percent; if Toomey, who had been elected three times in a congressional district which Bush lost that year by 726 votes, been the Republican nominee, I think he would have had a decent chance to win the district. But look at the 2008 Pennsylvania numbers. John McCain lost Pennsylvania 54 percent-44 percent. The exit poll showed party identification in the state as 44 percent Democratic and only 37 percent Republican. So I think it's going to be hard for a Republican who won the nomination by campaigning as a conservative to win, unless opinion and party identification shifts significantly. Which could happen, but hasn't happened yet.

I see Toomey's announcement as something else—a warning that Specter had better not vote for cloture on the card check bill, as he did when it came up in the Senate but had no chance of becoming law because of George W. Bush's veto. As Rubin notes, Specter has been sounding cautious about card check these days. He can read the numbers in one recent poll that show him doing far better with Democrats (49 percent-42 percent for someone new rather than Specter) than with Republicans (66 percent-26 percent for someone new rather than Specter). It's clear he's in tough shape against a serious primary opponent but in pretty good shape in the general election. He can draw the obvious conclusion: don't give a conservative opponent any more incentive to run by voting for card check. The labor bosses will be furious, but Independent and Democratic voters will not be as furious as Republican voters would be if he supplies a critical vote for card check. Specter is a survivor: he was elected Philadelphia County district attorney way back in 1965 and 1969, lost a battle for reelection in 1973, then ran twice more for statewide office and lost until he was elected to the Senate in 1980 and then reelected four times. He doesn't win on charm and charisma, but on brains and hard work. I think Pat Toomey has just struck a strong blow against card check. And he still has the option to run for governor if he wants.

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