Politics & Policy

The Right Moment

Toomey begins to surge against Specter

“If the election were held today, it could go either way,” Pat Toomey tells NRO. “Next week we’ll win.”

The conservative congressman’s underdog bid to defeat Sen. Arlen Specter in Tuesday’s GOP primary appears to be peaking at just the right moment. The latest poll shows Specter slightly ahead of Toomey, 49 percent to 44 percent. That’s within the margin of error–and much closer than the 15-point lead Specter appeared to enjoy just two weeks ago.

“We have momentum,” says Toomey. “People are energized. All we have to do now is stay the course.”

The biggest question now is whether President Bush’s visit to Pittsburgh has knocked Toomey off his stride. “I’m here to say it as plainly as I can: Arlen Specter is the right man for the United States Senate,” said Bush on Monday.

Toomey puts a positive spin on the endorsement. “The president coming to Pennsylvania speaks volumes about Specter’s vulnerability,” he says. “Specter has been in office for nearly 25 years, he’s raised four times as much money as we have, he’s massively outspent us–and he’s dropping in the polls, we’re rising, and now he needs the president to carry him across the line on election day because he can’t do it on his own.”

The congressman from Allentown isn’t holding any grudges. “The White House has a policy of supporting incumbents. That’s fine. It has a legislative agenda it must pass. After we win this primary, however, the president will support me and I will support him.”

He scoffs at Specter’s need to organize a rescue operation: “A mainstream Republican wouldn’t be in this position.”

That’s the essence of Toomey’s campaign against the liberal senator, whose lifetime voting record has earned him a mark of 42 percent from the American Conservative Union–versus Toomey’s score of 97 percent.

“Everywhere I go, people tell me that they’re tired of watching Specter work against Republicans,” says Toomey. “He voted against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, he cited Scottish law during Clinton’s impeachment trial, he has voted to raise taxes, and he’s a wasteful spender. I’m disturbed at the prospect of him chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee because of his opposition to school choice and his support for affirmative action and hate crimes.”

The conservative editorial page of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently cast its lot with Toomey: “From matters constitutional to those fiscal, Specter is a twisting, porking, Scottish law-invoking wild-card sophist whom Republicans serious about reforming government can no longer afford or trust…. Pennsylvanians deserve better. That’s why we wholeheartedly endorse Patrick Toomey for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.”

Many commentators believe Toomey may upset Specter in next week’s primary. “Toomey has turned his challenge into a real horse race, and the outcome depends on whether Specter can halt the conservative defections and rally his own liberal and moderate Republican base,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, in the Associated Press.

The winner of the GOP primary will go on to face Democratic congressman Joe Hoeffel in the general election.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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