Arlen Specter’s rival discusses the upcoming race, his conservative ideology, and President Obama’s job performance.
In 1998, Pat Toomey left a career in finance and restaurants to launch a bid for a Congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s 15th District, located in Allentown. After winning a surprising victory, he served for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, earning a lifetime 97 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. In 2004, he challenged incumbent Arlen Specter for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, coming within 17,000 votes out of a million cast in a bitterly fought primary in which he was outspent 4 to 1.
Toomey served as president of the Club for Growth for more than four years starting in 2005 as the organization financed candidates who stood for lower taxes and limited government. Earlier this month, Toomey announced he would challenge Specter again in 2010, setting the stage for what is sure to be one most closely watched primary battles of next year’s election cycle. A Rasmussen poll released last week showed Toomey with a 21-point edge over Specter.
On Monday morning, I spoke with Toomey via telephone about the upcoming race, his conservative ideology, and President Obama’s job performance.
PK: What made you decide to transition from your successful business career into politics?
Toomey: By the late '90s, when I ran for Congress, I had become pretty well steeped in a lot of free market ideas that I’m still very hopeful about, and believe strongly in, like school choice, free trade, Social Security reform where workers could accumulate personal savings — a number of specific ideas that I’m convinced will lead to more prosperity and greater well-being on the part of a vast majority of Americans. After the 1994 elections, when Republicans took control of Congress, I thought there was really an opportunity to advance these ideas…
PK: Now we obviously have a much different set of circumstances, with Democrats in total control of Washington. So, what has made you decide to challenge Arlen Specter again?
I think you’re right. I think we now have the most liberal elected government in the history of the republic. I think they are very consciously and systematically attempting to take America on a huge lurch to the left, to really remake our society in a fashion similar to a European-style welfare state. They are trying to fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between citizens and our government. And it’s frightening to me, and it will have devastating consequences if they’re successful, and of course, Arlen Specter has been happy to cooperate actively with this effort. His support for all the bailouts, his support for massive spending, and his support for the Democrats’ agenda and defeating the Republican filibuster on the stimulus bill. It’s just unconscionable to me that a Republican can be actively facilitating this huge lurch to the left. So I want to run for the Senate, I want to get elected to the Senate, and I’m confident I can. And I want to try and stop this liberal freight train and actually turn the direction around.
PK: Specter, and some other critics of your time at the Club for Growth, have argued that your support for conservative challengers to moderate Republicans in the primaries cost seats for Republicans. They talk, for instance, about the Chafee-Laffey [U.S. Senate race in Rhode Island], which could have decided control of the Senate in 2006. How would you respond to that criticism?
It’s an entirely and completely false charge, like most of the charges that Specter makes. Let’s take the Lincoln Chafee situation. Bear in mind, what is lost when Lincoln Chafee leaves the Senate? First of all, within a matter of months, he abandoned the Republican Party formally. He’s no longer even a Republican. During the presidential campaign, he publicly endorsed Barack Obama instead of John McCain. So what is it we had in the form of Lincoln Chafee? He wasn’t a Republican in any meaningful sense of the word. But as for his political prospects, the man was destined to lose that race no matter what. He was in absolutely irrecoverable decline long before we got involved in the race. And take a look at his general election outcome. It wasn’t close…
PK: What would you say to Republican primary voters who feel that they agree with you more on the issues, but they wonder, are you going to be electable in a general election? If you’re going to lose a general election, would Specter still be preferable to a Democrat? And pointing to Rick Santorum’s performance in 2006, could somebody with your conservative views win in a state that has increasingly become Democratic?
Point number one, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have a much better chance of winning a general election in Pennsylvania in 2010 than Arlen Specter would. I see no scenario under which Arlen Specter could win the general election, even if he were somehow miraculously to win the primary. And here’s why. There is such a breadth and depth of antipathy toward Senator Specter among Republicans generally, and conservatives in particular, that if he were somehow to manage to win the primary, which he would need massive Democratic crossover to do, he will guarantee a conservative third party candidate in the general election — a Constitution Party candidate or a Libertarian Party candidate. And these kinds of third party candidates in Pennsylvania have a history of breaking into double digits. Against Tom Ridge, third party candidates in gubernatorial races got 11 to 13 percent of the vote. Now Tom Ridge was a moderate, but Tom Ridge was never hated. Arlen Specter is a liberal, and the animosity toward him is so great that I think this third party candidate would easily break 15 points, maybe get into the high teens, and it’s not possible for Arlen Specter to win an election when somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the electorate, in the form of Republicans and conservatives, is voting for a third party candidate. So, Senator Specter would almost certainly lose a general election.
Now, as far as my own prospects go, the comparison to Rick Santorum is completely meaningless. It’s a complete red herring thrown out by the Specter people. Rick Santorum didn’t lose in 2006 because he was too conservative, he lost because he was a Republican running in 2006. 2006 was the worst Republican year since 1974. Republicans all across the country and all across the ideological spectrum were losing. Nancy Johnson lost a seat in Connecticut. Charlie Bass lost a seat in New Hampshire. Sue Kelly lost a seat in New York. These are very moderate to liberal Republicans, and they were crushed, because it was a very bad year for Republicans. So, this didn’t have anything to do with his ideology.
Senator Specter will argue that I’m too conservative because among other things, I’m pro-life. The only problem with that argument is the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, is pro-life. He’s a pro-life, pro-gun Senator. So how is it that such an impossible position from which to get elected? This is just Senator Specter, who can’t defend his own record, desperately trying to find some way to impugn me.
The final point I’ll make is look at the Congressional district I represented. I was elected three times to represent the 15th District of Pennsylvania. That’s a district in which my predecessor was a Democrat, the Democratic nominee has won the last five presidential elections in that district, and the Democrats outnumber the Republicans. Yet I won that district three times by increasing margins, and I never lost it. So I believe that is very clear evidence that I can attract Democratic support, win a tough general election, and I can do that state-wide as well.
PK: President Obama wants to see himself as this transformational liberal leader who’s embarking on a third wave of government expansion following on the New Deal and the Great Society. Republicans clearly are in a very limited position to resist right now. What do you think Republicans can do to resist Obama given that in the next year he’s going to try to shove through as much as he can?
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online