Sen. Specter's Stimulus Vote May Hurt Election Bid
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The many casualties of the economic crisis could come to include Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's one of three Republicans who voted for President Obama's economic stimulus plan. That vote hurt him with conservatives who are targeting him as he looks toward a sixth term next year. Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Ever since Arlen Specter voted for the stimulus bill in February, he's found himself on the defensive, trying to explain his decision to conservative critics and a skeptical public.
TOM HENSCHKY: Really, my question as a Pennsylvanian is how does this stimulus package really help create jobs in Pennsylvania if you're not in the construction business?
ROSE: Tom Henschky put his question to the senator at an event billed as a stimulus summit in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, outside Harrisburg. Specter admits he's not sure the stimulus bill will work, but he says not passing it would have been worse for the global economy.
ARLEN SPECTER: I said at the time and since that even though it put my seat on the line, if it cost me my seat, I was going to vote my conscience because I thought it was important for America that we enact it.
ROSE: The primary election is still more than 13 months off. So it's hard to say if any single vote will cost Specter the Senate seat he's held since 1980, but his stance on the stimulus bill has all but ensured that he'll face a vigorous challenge from within his own party.
BRIAN TURK: It was the straw that broke the camel's back.
ROSE: Brian Turk was one of almost 600 conservative Republicans who gathered over the weekend at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Harrisburg.
TURK: Arlen finally gave people enough reasons to say we're not going to be with you this time. You made one too many bad choices.
ROSE: This wing of the party has never really warmed up to the moderate, pro- choice Arlen Specter, and many at the conference are rallying around his likely challenger, Pat Toomey.
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PAT TOOMEY: I believe that a Republican senator from Pennsylvania ought to stand up for the common sense, conservative principles that are at the heart of the Republican idea, really at the heart of the American idea. And that's why I'm here to tell you this morning it is very, very likely that very soon, I will be a candidate for the United States Senate.
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ROSE: But some say Toomey is too conservative to win a general election in a state that's leaning more and more toward the Democrats, though he begs to differ.
TOOMEY: Voters of all stripes are increasingly becoming very distressed with the absolutely unprecedented explosion of spending, and so my history and my message of fiscal discipline, I think that's going to resonate very, very broadly, especially in these times.
ROSE: But that history may also be a political liability. Toomey is a former investment banker, and his ties to the financial industry are likely to be an issue in the campaign. Specter is already talking about them.
SPECTER: He was on Wall Street with these derivatives and credit swaps, and helped to create the problem. Then he went to the Congress, and he voted for deregulation. So he's going to have a lot of votes to explain.
ROSE: Toomey may also be hampered by the fact that there's another conservative in the race, Peg Luksik, a pro-life activist from western Pennsylvania who has previously run for governor. Franklin & Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says that could work to Specter's advantage.
TERRY MADONNA: It's very possible that Senator Specter could have four or five rivals to the right of him, which in the long run will certainly help him because it will divide the conservative vote in the Republican primary.
ROSE: But he can't do what Joe Lieberman did in Connecticut. Pennsylvania has a sore- loser law, meaning if you lose your party's primary in the spring, you can't appear on the ballot in the fall. For NPR news, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.
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