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Specter Panics

Pat Toomey's challenge to Arlen Specter gains momentum--and Specter reaches out to some unlikely allies.

11:00 PM, Mar 24, 2004 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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IN THIS SPRING'S PENNSYLVANIA SENATE PRIMARY conventional wisdom has incumbent Arlen Specter coasting to victory over challenger Rep. Pat Toomey. Specter starts out with all the advantages. He has the backing of the Republican establishment--the White House, Pennsylvania's junior senator, Rick Santorum, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and at least four Pennsylvania GOP House members have pledged their support. As a four term senator, Specter also has high name recognition and sizeable campaign coffers.

But Specter has shown weakness before in Pennsylvania's closed primary. In 1992, Steve Friend, an underfunded, obscure state representative secured 35 percent of the vote. In 1998, Specter's two unknown challengers combined for 33 percent of the vote.

Beltway insiders have said that Specter could be vulnerable if Toomey, a social and fiscal conservative, can get his message across to conservatives long-irritated by Specter's left-leaning record. (In 2002 the American Conservative Union gave Specter a 50 percent rating; Toomey received 100 percent.)

It looks like Toomey may have done just that.

New polling data shows Toomey has slashed the whopping 23-point lead Specter held over him in January down to 9 points, according to a USA / WNEP-TV / KDKA-TV poll. What's more, a new Quinnipac poll shows that only 4 in 10 Republicans would reelect Specter and only 35 percent of Pennsylvania voters hold a favorable view of him. Specter's job performance rating has dropped from 60 percent in September to 46 percent. The incumbent looks like he's getting nervous.

Specter's nervousness appears to have manifested itself in an appeal to Democratic union members to switch parties before the April 27 primary. A letter to the Transportation Communications International Union tells members that, "You can switch from Democrat to Republican temporarily and then switch right back again."

Specter has also accepted thousands of dollars from the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees-- two of the AFL-CIO's largest and most political unions. He has also received money and endorsements from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest union of public school employees.

"The fact that this appeal comes just days before the registration deadline illustrates that Arlen Specter doesn't have sufficient support among Republicans to win this race," Toomey spokesman Joe Sterns said. "Instead of supporting Republican ideals of lower taxes, less government and traditional values, he has opted to reach out to liberal Democrats for help."

Rachel DiCarlo is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.