The Campaign Spectator

RINO Survival Guide

On the trail with Arlen Specter.

By From the June 2004 issue

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It's 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and I'm at a gun show on the outskirts of Philadelphia where Sen. Arlen Specter is set to tout his NRA endorsement. The man seated next to me has a black T-shirt with blood-red lettering that reads, "Some People Are Alive Simply Because It Is Illegal to Kill Them." I accidentally catch his eye and he glares at me, which wouldn't make me nervous except I am in a room full of semiautomatic weapons, memorabilia from the Third Reich, and Japanese Samurai swords.

The only small talk I make is with a middle-aged man who expresses disappointment that there aren't any vendors selling the reinforced white plastic tubes you bury in your backyard to "dump your guns in when the man shows up to take 'em."

"I should have picked one at the last show," he says. I nod and smile, because...well, what do you say to something like that?

A few minutes later, Specter shows up and gives the kind of speech anti-government conspiracy theorists go gaga over. He rails against the ATF and FBI raid of Randy Weaver's Ruby Ridge cabin -- during which an ATF officer and Weaver's wife and teenage son were killed -- and the siege of the Branch Davidian complex at Waco.

Specter plays up the folk hero status Weaver currently enjoys on the gun show circuit (Weaver makes his living these days mostly by selling signed Polaroids of himself at these shows), telling the crowd Weaver had been "entrapped" by the government when he refused to "be an informant." Specter promises to use his clout as a senator to combat such "abuses of power" in the future.

That said, Specter moves on to the heart of his stump speech, which consists of quoting and re-quoting (at length) from President Bush's flattering endorsement six days earlier. Specter is in surprisingly good spirits, but seems frazzled when the gun rights folks start to ask questions. Queried about his support for McCain-Feingold, Specter simply apologizes for the vote. He lifts up his palms and says, "I made a mistake." A question on his support for the Assault Weapons Ban gets a non-verbal shrug. A trio of college girls with literature from the campaign of his challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey, are happy to fill in the gaps.

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