Arlen Specter Stays Republican on Card Check, But Polls Show He May Be Wrong

Good luck climbing out of that polling pit.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

A new Quinnipiac poll shows Arlen Specter losing badly to his expected GOP primary opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey. Specter, of course, apparently dealt a death blow to the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as the "card-check" bill) yesterday when he announced that he would vote against it.

The senior Keystone senator had had a couple of choices before taking a position on the bill, and the poll shows that he may have chosen the toughest option—meaning that we should look out for him to make a hard charge to the right.

Specter edged Toomey five years ago in a primary, but now trails the conservative darling by 41-27 percent, according to Quinnipiac. That's all about Specter's problems with Republican voters: 78 percent of Pennsylvania voters (and 73 percent of Republicans) don't know enough about Toomey to have an opinion of him. And more than half of Republican voters (52 percent) disapprove of Specter, with only 36 percent approving.

Specter was faced with a stark choice regarding EFCA: Had he voted for it (as he has in the past), labor unions would have supported him in the general election ... had he gotten that far. It would have been the back-breaking straw in a Republican primary. Specter enjoys 60-16 support among Democrats, according to Quinnipiac, and a 41-35 thumbs up among independents, spurring speculation that he might simply leave the GOP and run as an independent (a la Lieberman). That door is now closed: You can be sure the unions will want to make an example of the senator. And unlike Lieberman, who had the general election field alone against the Democratic nominee when the Republicans put up a sacrificial candidate, Specter can expect a real Democrat.

So he thinks he can survive a Republican challenge. I'm skeptical: It seems unlikely that conservative voters will suddenly develop an affinity for him simply because he failed to do the wrong thing. He needs to affirmatively mend fences back home, not simply stop burning the ones still standing. So look for a more conservative Specter in coming months (and don't expect him again to join with the two other moderate Republicans and the moderate Democrats to help pass legislation conservatives hate).

Specter's been around a long time. It will be awfully hard for him to overcome a 52 percent negative rating among his fellow Republicans—they know him too well. He might have been better splitting from the GOP and going the Lieberman route.

A couple of notes on EFCA, by the way: Ben Smith flags an interesting item from First Read that says the White House didn't really want to make a big fight out of the bill anyway. If you don't know much about the issue, I commend you to Michael Barone's column arguing against it, House GOP Leader John Boehner's op-ed arguing the same and Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa's op-ed in favor.

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