In Pennsylvania, the time for Pat Toomey finally may have arrived.
In 2004, Toomey came within two points of knocking off Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican primary. At that time, Specter enjoyed the backing of then-Sen. Rick Santorum and President George W. Bush, and Toomey’s gambit was a bold one, an embarrassing one, even.
Toomey, after all, was saying Republicans had lost sight of their principles of limited government, low taxes, and free-market advocacy. Or, as John J. Miller put it in his recent NR profile, Toomey’s challenge showed he “was concerned about the GOP’s ideological drift before it was cool to worry.”
His roguishness earned him the affection of disillusioned conservatives and moderates across Pennsylvania, and loyalty from some of the same people who would later become a part of the Tea Party movement.
And now, after a few years spent in the political trenches fighting to advance free-market principles, he’s back, and he’s leading in the polls against Joe Sestak, a man whose own ideas on government offer a stark contrast in choice for Pennsylvanians.
Sestak has sought to paint himself as an independent thinker, despite voting with Nancy Pelosi 97 percent of the time. He’s struggled to prove he’s serious about jobs, having called for a national energy tax. And he’s attached himself to Barack Obama’s stimulus, the spending bonanza viewed pessimistically in Pennsylvania. Sestak even has said he wished it had been more — at least $1 trillion.
In key respects, Joe Sestak’s ideological anchor — unflinching certitude in the wisdom and fairness of government action — has become his albatross.
Toomey, meanwhile, has spent his time quietly traveling the commonwealth on bus tours and endorsement circuits, articulating a vision for “more jobs” and “less government.”
In a year when voters are overwhelmingly fearful over the implications of ballooning government spending amidst a deteriorating economy, Toomey’s message has been simple. “This is not sustainable,” he said plainly this week in Philadelphia.
Joe Sestak’s personal deficit — in the polls — is certainly not for lack of trying. Though Sestak was outmatched 2-1 in terms of cash-on-hand as of this summer’s filing period, with some $2.1 million to Toomey’s $4.7 million, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is beginning to pump in some $4.4 million on his behalf. Toomey is now being hammered for his early career as a Wall Street currency trader in the 1980s and for his time in Congress representing the Lehigh Valley from 1999 to 2005.
Despite this, Toomey has maintained a somewhat remarkable lead in the increasingly true-blue Pennsylvania, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican president in more than 20 years — before today’s college-age voters were even born.
Toomey is up by six according to Rasmussen. Rueters/Ipsos’ latest has him up by ten. The race is expected to tighten in the coming weeks, but Toomey is trusting that the economy will be the prism through which he and his opponent will be judged.
And while Pat Toomey’s style lacks the panache of a Marco Rubio, his humble servant attitude has earned him the endorsement, just this week, of former Governor Tom Ridge, along with the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police, the 41,000-member police union.
So long as jobs and the economy continue to dominate in the minds of voters, Toomey seems poised, finally, to win Arlen Specter’s old seat. Either way, Pat Toomey is the outsider no more.