March 23, 2004,
The good news for those on the edge of their seats over the upcoming GOP Senate primary between Arlen Specter and Pat Toomey comes from last week's statewide voter poll by television stations KDKA (Pittsburgh) and WNEP (Wilkes-Barre), which shows Specter's once-comfortable lead over the conservative congressman shrinking to single digits among "certain" voters. With the momentum going Toomey's way, and with five weeks remaining before the April 27 primary, what was once inconceivable Specter getting knocked off is no longer.
This may explain why Specter is aggressively working to woo supporters amongst two groups for which he is no hero: conservatives and pro-lifers. For example, last week Specter and colleague Rick Santorum trumpeted the news that the Senate had passed their bill (Specter was the main sponsor) to rename the federal building in Harrisburg after none other than Ronald Reagan. That's right, Ronald Reagan the same guy whose Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork, was defeated largely owing to Specter's efforts. He's also the fellow who Specter fought tooth and nail on tax cuts, and spending restraints, and a host of other reforms. ("I don't feel that I owe Reagan anything," Specter once said in a boast over his political independence in the Keystone State). Odd, isn't it, that the once-proud thorn in the Gipper's side wants to honor him with a building?
As for pro-lifers, Specter, a vigorous Roe defender (he cited abortion as a major reason for his ghastly 1996 presidential run), is doing his usual pre-primary kiss-up of the group he short-shrifts five out of every six years. (In the 1986 primary he weirdly countered his pro-abortion stand by urging voters to watch The Silent Scream, a pro-life film of a sonogram showing an actual abortion.) Mary Beliveau, head of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation PAC, told Lifenews.com that Specter is "feverishly courting pro-life audiences, using Christian radio in attempts to fool listeners into thinking he shares their values by touting support for abstinence programs and a partial-birth abortion ban. Yet, at the same time he voted for the partial-birth abortion ban, he voted for an amendment to support the 1973 Roe.v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand throughout nine months of pregnancy, which allows the equally grotesque dismemberment procedure. This was his signal to NARAL that his position did not change."
At first glance (at the KDKA/WNEP poll), you wouldn’t blame Beliveau if she were nervous (she isn’t): Specter is indeed ahead of Toomey among self-described pro-lifers (41 percent to 39 percent) and conservatives (43 percent to 39 percent) who are "certain" to vote. Hence the head-scratching — shouldn't Toomey (a solid abortion foe) be obliterating Specter among these voters?
On primary day, that answer may very well prove to be yes. As for right now, the lead held by Specter a mega-known quantity, after 24 years in the Senate, following a very public stint in the Philadelphia district attorney's office among these groups is likely more an indication of Toomey's lesser-known name and position recognition than it is of any successful seduction by the incumbent.
For many people, Pat Toomey remains a question mark he polls under 50 percent on name recognition. Come April 27, that won't be the case.
Indeed, the poll's internal breakdown should be encouraging to Toomey supporters. Here's why: Of the survey's 968 Republican respondents (the vast majority considered to be either "certain" or "likely" voters), 400 were self-described as "pro-choice," but significantly more 520 called themselves "pro-life." This is a large and prime group into which the Toomey campaign can make inroads, and maybe huge ones at that, thereby draining away current "pro-life" Specter supporters.
The same applies to conservative voters. Of the KDKA/WNEP poll's "certain" and "likely" respondents, 375 called themselves "moderate" and 56 "liberal" Specter's natural allies. But 504 labeled themselves "conservative" Toomey's natural allies. That's a significant difference, with the mother lode breaking conservative. That means there's plenty of upside for Toomey.
As the campaign rounds the turn and heads for the homestretch, Pat Toomey is well positioned. He has the reasonable potential to attract more pro-life and conservative Pennsylvania Republicans voters who are his natural political allies, but who, for the time being and for reasons that are likely due to name recognition support the liberal, pro-abortion Specter, but probably tepidly so.
Over the next five weeks, that rumble you may hear from Pennsylvania could be Arlen Specter voters packing up and moving into Pat Toomey's home-sweet-ideological-home. For conservatives, that sound will be sweet music.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been amended since posting.
Jack Fowler is associate publisher ofNational Review.