Ties prove fatal for one-time Republican once assured of an easy GOP renomination.
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He began by launching on Toomey. What I was listening to was a virtual declaration of political war. Even standing there looking at him face to face I had no idea how much I was underestimating the situation.
“I’ve been sitting back for the last six years taking insistent criticism from him,” he seethed. “The campaign is underway and I intend to fire back. It’s hardball. Hard hardball.”
Toomey had spent the years between his 2004 loss and today’s announcement to run against Specter again as the president of the supply-side oriented Club for Growth, a group dedicated to raising money to defeat candidates — Republicans included — who had abandoned the success of Reaganomics, the classical principles of economic prosperity that had provided an almost unbroken record of a quarter century of economic growth from Reagan through the end days of George W. Bush. Specter pounced on the Club.
Said Specter evenly:
“Toomey represents the Club for Growth which has engaged in cannibalistic tactics. When they fought [recently defeated GOP Senator Lincoln] Chafee in the Rhode Island primary, spent all his money, beat him in the general, that cost us control of the Senate. In the Senate…we would have controlled the Senate had we retained Chafee’s seat in 2007 and 2008.”
I had written a book several years earlier detailing Specter’s resolute fight for a conservative Bush nominee to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, detailing his opposition to the hard-left interest groups that sought, in their typical fashion, not simply to defeat the nomination but destroy the nominee. Specter had stood up to them — from Ralph Neas and Nan Aron to the National Organization for Women. In 2008 I saw him at another of these meetings and he greeted me with a grin: “Are you going to write another book and make me the hero?” Everyone had laughed.
No one was laughing this morning, but knowing of my interest in placing conservatives on the court, Specter segued into the issue in an almost stream-of-consciousness moment.
“Bush left 13 circuit judges on the table and I think about 24 district judges on the table who could have been confirmed had we had Republican control and I had been the chairman [of the Senate Judiciary Committee],” he said, angrily underlining what he felt was the Club’s role — which is to say Toomey’s role — in losing control of the Senate in 2006.
Meanwhile, even as we stood in the cold air of a gray April morning, Specter’s campaign was on television going after Toomey. Toomey was guilty of having worked on Wall Street, selling “risky derivatives and swaps.” Most negative political ads of this type feature an announcer’s voice whispering dark, accusatory somethings about the opponent, the candidate himself or herself never seen. Not this time. This time, there was Arlen Specter himself, bluntly accusing Toomey, saying “it’s derivatives and swaps that have now plunged us into this financial mess.”
Clearly, Specter had no intention of backing away from that stimulus vote. He would try and make the case that the whole economic mess was Toomey’s fault — an argument that had just fallen flatter than a run-over pancake only moments ago in a roomful of conservatives.
No matter. The same day a letter had gone out to Toomey, signed not by the usual campaign aide but by Specter himself. The letter was as in-your-face as the TV commercial, accusing Toomey of being — an investment banker.
Specter shifted gears once again, looking me steadily in the eye as he finished venting about judges. This time he brought in the 2006 defeat of then-Senator Rick Santorum. “There’s no way Toomey can win a general election,” he said. “You know that the Santorum experience is conclusive on it. Toomey is to the right of Santorum. Santorum’s lifetime conservative record is 88, Toomey’s is 97. Santorum spent $31 million [in his losing 2006 race against Democrat Bob Casey, Jr.], two-term senator, number three in leadership and he lost by 18 points.”
Now he tried another approach. “The only check and balance on the Democratic sweep with the White House and the House is 41 of us in the Senate. Because if Toomey is the Republican nominee and my seat goes, the Democrats get 60 votes. And they run rough shod on increasing taxes and bringing card check and a lot of other things that are anathema to Republicans.”
His last words, delivered with a sudden wry smile, were about sending Toomey a message. “After this I’m going to send a tough one.”
The message came thirteen days later. It was stunning. He had given no clue of it that day in Harrisburg — or in retrospect, maybe he had and I just didn’t have the wit to pick up on it.
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.
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