Politics & Policy

Sen. Arlen Specter, R., Theoretically

The Pennsylvania incumbent continues to reach out to untraditional primary voters.

Sen. Arlen Specter continues to demonstrate that he has a stunning appeal to groups not traditionally active in Republican primaries: labor unions, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employees, John Kerry supporters, and College Democrats.

In addition to Specter’s pitch to a Jewish group of Democrats, and the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition’s direct-mail campaign urging 20,000 Democratic voters to switch for the primary, a major international union is getting into the game. Last month, the Transportation Communications International Union sent a letter to its members, asking Democratic members in Pennsylvania to switch their voter registration to Republican to vote for Sen. Arlen Specter in his primary fight against conservative Rep. Pat Toomey.

He “needs as much support in the April 27 primary as possible,” Robert A. Scardelletti, president of the union, wrote in a March 15 letter to Pennsylvania members. “Enclosed is a voter registration card that you can use to register to vote in the Republican primary if you so choose. I realize that this is a somewhat unusual request, but I can assure you that it is vitally important.”

According to Chris Lilik of the Specter-mocking Toomey Blog, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation “has decided to start dabbing into politics. According to several sources from different corners of the state, PENNDOT has begun sweeping highways and removing political signs… The catch: PENNDOT is ONLY removing Toomey for Senate signs!”

Lilik reports that volunteers active with the campaign witnessed four PENNDOT employees removing Toomey signs on a busy highway but leaving those promoting other candidates.

“On 286, which is close to Monroeville, another witness saw PENNDOT employees removing other Toomey signs in a similar manner,” he writes. “This leads to one extremely important question: Are PENNDOT Employees being paid by taxpayers, or Citizens for Arlen Specter?”

While the Club for Growth has advertisements comparing Specter to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, it’s not like the senator himself is actually campaigning among Kerry supporters. Okay, only a little bit. A West Chester University member of the College Democrat reports that when Specter addressed a state AFL-CIO convention March 18, he “begged” an audience of union members clad in Kerry buttons to “switch parties for the primary election.”

The Democrat also brought a slew of flyers back from the AFL-CIO meeting, which she was told to distribute around the WCU campus. “POLITICAL CAMPAIGN Jobs Available. Be Part of an Exciting Campaign. Form Political Contacts. Build Your Resume.” (The fact that the campaign work is for Specter, or even a party affiliation isn’t mentioned on the flyer.) So, Specter is using the $9 million campaign warchest that Vice President Cheney, chief of staff Andy Card, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove have helped raise, to hire College Democrats to work polling stations on primary day.

Their campus counterparts aren’t complaining that much, because Specter has been offering College Republicans beaucoup bucks to help out on the campaign. As first reported in Human Events the Duquesne University CRs were offered $500 to send ten “volunteers” for a weekend. College Republicans elsewhere in the state have reported offers of $75 per day to work election day and the Saturday before.

Toomey has about $2 million in campaign cash, meaning that his campaign volunteers are actual volunteers, not counting pizza or other perks. But the upside for Toomey is that in some cases, Specter may be buying the College Republicans’ labor, but not their votes.

As one CR leader put it in an e-mail to his members, “I, along with the overwhelming majority of the group support Pat Toomey in the primary election; however, it is necessary for the financial stability of our organization and its success that we seize this opportunity and raise $500.00 for our future. Thank you and see you on Saturday!” (One can imagine this particular “volunteer” at the call center: “Yes, vote for Specter on Primary Day, but remember it’s spelled a little unusually. That’s Specter, spelled T-O-O-M-E-Y on your ballot.”)

If Toomey’s organizational alter ego is the conservative, free-market Club for Growth, then Specter’s is the Republican Main Street Partnership–a group “founded in 1998 to promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party, to serve as a voice for centrist Republicans and to partner with individuals, organizations and institutions that share centrist values.” In other words, Republicans who oppose those un-thoughtful, un-centrist views often called conservatism.

The Club for Growth’s PAC is readying a sum in the neighborhood of $400,000 for commercials in the last month, but that total is likely to be matched by donations from their less conservative counterparts.

“Overall, friends of Main Street [a Separate 527 group of individual donors] have put $400,000 into this race and about $250,000 in hard money that our members have given directly,” said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership. “This is top priority for us as it is for the Club [for Growth].”

Most of the group’s money has gone to radio advertisements in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg.

Resnick said her organization doesn’t relish fights with conservatives in GOP primaries.

“There are a lot of other races that we feel would be a better use for this money,” she said. “We would have preferred to use this in George Nethercutt’s race in Washington State and to expand the Senate Republicans… Our philosophy is to maintain a majority. Moderates vote for Bill Frist [to be Senate Majority Leader] and Dennis Hastert [for Speaker of the House]. You may not love us, but we’ve been there for some key legislative victories for the President, like prescription drugs and Head Start. Those are votes that the moderates carried for him.”

The Specter supporters insist the incumbent can help Bush win the state in the fall.

“Specter helps more because he brings the moderates with him,” Resnick said. “The White House also figures Specter helps the president more than Toomey. They’ve done a lot of fundraisers together, they’ve been up there a few times. The president is helping a sitting senator, and it’s also a chance to get his face into a swing state.”

Interestingly, Bush may be in position to help the GOP Senate candidate instead of the other way around. A Keystone poll taken March 25 to 29 has Bush beating Kerry 46 percent to 40; a Rasmussen poll taken March 14 to 16 has Kerry up 45 to 44; and a Quinnipac poll has Bush up 44 to 40.

Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service in Washington, is a frequent contributor to NRO and a commentator on London’s ITN News.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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