Pat Toomey, the former GOP congressman running for Arlen Specter’s Senate seat in Pennsylvania, continues to gain support. In a new Quinnipiac University poll released today, Toomey, who once headed the Club for Growth, now leads Specter by 43 percent to 42 percent. The poll also says that 48 percent of Pennsylvanians disapprove of Specter’s job as senator.
“I don’t put too much stock in polls, especially a year before the election,” Toomey tells NRO. “But having said that, I do think that Pennsylvania voters have become increasingly fed up with Arlen Specter’s cynical, political opportunism and the excesses coming out of the Democratic party. For Pennsylvanians, the Obama–Specter policies have been detrimental, from staggering spending to unprecedented debt.” On the trail, he says, it is clear “the people are looking for common-sense fiscal conservatism.”
Toomey adds that the health-care debate has been especially damaging to Specter’s reelection chances. “There have been problems at several levels,” says Toomey. “First is Specter’s shameless flip-flopping. As recently as May, Specter said on national television that he opposed a public option. As soon as his Democratic primary challenger Joe Sestak gained ground, he changed his tune. He also reversed his stance on card-check legislation. If you add in Specter’s party switch, it becomes clear that the only principle that Specter stands for is his own reelection.”
For Toomey to win, he’ll have to do well in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which are chock full of moderate Republicans and former Reagan Democrats. One important area will be Bucks County, which sits just north of Philadelphia and is home to office parks, shopping malls, and abandoned steel factories. In recent months, Toomey has made sure to campaign there often, appearing at everything from GOP rallies to neighborhood barbeques.
That’s a smart move, says Mike Fitzpatrick, a former GOP congressman from Bucks County. Fitzpatrick, who lost his House seat in 2006 in one of the year’s closest elections, tells NRO that the latest poll numbers may indicate that support for the Democrats and Specter is collapsing just as the GOP is rediscovering its core principles. Toomey, he says, also “comes at this race with experience in private business as well as in public policy. When we reflect upon his years of service in the U.S. Congress, it is clear that he demonstrated the kind of leadership that we needed.”
“When you have states like New Jersey that could go conservative in a few weeks, it tells us a lot about what could happen next year in Pennsylvania,” says Fitzpatrick. “We’ll see what’s going on in Bucks County come November, when our counties and municipalities hold their elections. Those races, like the gubernatorial race in New Jersey, are both harbingers for Toomey and [for] the 2010 elections — the canary in the mine shaft for Democrats. Just like in 2005, when local races in Bucks County gave us an idea about what was coming in 2006, you can now see the writing on the wall starting to emerge for 2010.”
“There are big majorities of swing voters in Pennsylvania who do not think that the federal government should own companies or bail out Wall Street banks,” concludes Toomey. “They don’t think we should be borrowing trillions to grow government. This administration and a very liberal Congress have gone off in a far-left direction that swing voters don’t support. We have a real opportunity to do very well in suburban Pennsylvania and many other areas of the state with our message of fiscal discipline.”
Chris Lilik, a longtime Toomey associate and editor of Pennsylvania’s influential conservative website GrassrootsPA, tells NRO that “Pennsylvania now appears to have one exciting and unpredictable roller-coaster of a U.S. Senate race barreling down the tracks.”
“If you check out PAPolls.com, you will see that recent Franklin & Marshall, Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, and DailyKos/Research 2000 polls have this contest literally all over the map,” says Lilik. “The real silver lining for Toomey with all these polls, aside from leading in several, has to be what’s happening to President Obama and Governor Ed Rendell’s job approval numbers here in Pennsylvania. Both Obama and Rendell’s various unfavorables are on the rise.”