All of this makes for a nail-biter on election night. With the race a statistical tie in the polls, nobody rushes to call it, and the vote count swings back and forth for half the evening. At 11 p.m., television screens put the race at 50-50. Only well after midnight does the AP declare Specter the victor by less than two points.
Despite the close loss, there is surprisingly little sorrow at Toomey's primary night party at a Fogelsville Holiday Inn. With Toomey expected to stick to his pledge not to serve more than three terms in the House, most supporters still look at this as the beginning of something -- not the end. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, some begin to whisper about a November run for the governorship. "I'm not sure what he should do, but I know he should do something," a young woman festooned with Toomey buttons and stickers says. "He's the best we've got and we can't lose him."
By all accounts, Specter's headquarters is nearly empty, and his victory speech uninspired. But, of course, revelers are not the lifeblood of democracy, voters are. Toomey has the better party, but Specter has the better night.
Although it may be difficult for conservatives smarting from the loss to see, the Toomey/Specter race was ultimately a victory for the cause. By coming so close, Toomey's supporters proved that cash and clout can be diminished by principles and ideals -- a feat Campaign Finance advocates had lectured us was impossible. This story will likely incite others to stage their own (hopefully better orchestrated) rebellions. Pat Toomey deserves to be commended.
Specter, already the longest-serving senator in the state's history, will be 80 by the time his seat comes up again. This will be his last term. It's anybody's guess how long his gratitude to President Bush will last. Only then will we know exactly how grave Bush's "one mistake" truly was.
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