Senator keeps his promise of “hard hardball” by leaving GOP — leaving Toomey the frontrunner?
Arlen Specter has kept his promise.
As he told me over a week ago in an exclusive for The American Spectator, he was going to play “hard hardball.”
Yesterday, staring at polls that had him losing a Republican primary to his 2004 rival former Congressman Pat Toomey, Specter did just that. Stunning the political world in both Pennsylvania and Washington, Specter became a Democrat.
Yet one of the “hard, hardball” facts of political life here in this state is that from the grave, Ronald Reagan has carried Pennsylvania one more time. This time, just as in 1980 when Reagan and Arlen Specter were on the ballot simultaneously, it is Reagan’s conservative views that received the most votes, with Specter’s old-fashioned GOP moderation coming in second.
There’s more to all of this that is perhaps not obvious to those outside Pennsylvania.
Here’s a Reagan-Specter story never told before.
It’s 1986. Arlen Specter has won re-nomination by the Pennsylvania Republican Party for a second term in the U.S. Senate. But there’s a problem. An unhappy conservative with some name recognition in one area of the state is toying publicly with running as a third candidate in the fall election between Specter and then Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar, a liberal minister from suburban Philadelphia who later became president of the left-wing National Council of Churches.
A call came into the Reagan White House. Senator Specter wanted President Reagan’s help in convincing this potential third candidate not to run. President Reagan, wanting to re-elect the Republican Senate that had shockingly come in on his coattails in 1980, promised to help. Well out of the state political spotlight a White House political aide was sent to Harrisburg to meet with the prospective third party candidate. The secret meeting took place with the then-Republican State chairman in the offices of the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee. Just the state chairman, the potential third candidate, and the Reagan guy.
A conversation was held. The usual reasons for supporting a party nominee were given by both the state chairman and the president’s aide: the nominee (Specter) has been chosen, the President needs a Republican Senate, Senator Specter has raised a lot of money. This went nowhere. No sale. The third potential candidate, incensed at Arlen Specter’s record, was still determined to do this. Finally, the White House aide pulled out a videotape and the state chairman hastily slipped it into a pre-arranged VCR. There, on screen in living color was an exclusive look at a tape that would not hit the airwaves in Pennsylvania for weeks: Arlen Specter and Ronald Reagan walking alone together along the West Wing colonnade outside the Oval Office, the Rose Garden in view. Reagan’s inimitable velvety voice filled the room. In typical Reagan style, you would have thought that with the possible exception of Nancy he looked alone to Arlen Specter to ease his burdens as they bore down in those awesome precincts.
Watching this, potential candidate number three paled. There was a request for the Reagan guy to come home with him and show this to the man’s wife. It was done. The man withdrew.
I know this because I was that White House aide.
In other words, the moderate Republican who came in second in Pennsylvania to the conservative Ronald Reagan in 1980 felt forced to turn to Reagan personally to save his seat in 1986. It may not have been necessary, but the point was that Specter felt that it was. Reagan, happily, agreed to help.
What does this mean in the light of Specter’s decision to bolt the Republican Party and run as a Democrat for re-election in the 2010 election for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania?
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