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True Grit: Specter Declares War on Toomey

Attacks Club for Growth on political cannibalism, vows hardball campaign.

By 4.15.09

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Arlen Specter is ready to rumble.

On Tuesday, one day before former Republican Congressman Pat Toomey formally declared his intention to challenge Specter in a 2010 replay of their fierce primary struggle six years earlier, Specter came out swinging.

In an exclusive interview with The American Spectator, Specter, looking fit at 79 from his famous early morning squash matches, stood patiently in a Harrisburg drizzle launching one verbal attack after another at Toomey and the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee that Toomey has served as president since his defeat by Specter. Toomey resigned his leadership post several days ago and announced his candidacy Wednesday morning, April 15th. The five-term Senator made it clear he was more than eager for round two of what was an unexpectedly close primary in 2004, an election in which the tenacious Specter rolled to victory with an unexpectedly close 17,000 vote margin.

"I've been sitting back for the last six years taking insistent criticism from him," Specter said of Toomey. "The campaign is underway and I intend to fire back. It's hardball. Hard hardball."

Without missing a beat, speaking without notes, Specter zeroed in specifically on Toomey and the Club, charging the latter with "cannibalistic tactics" that had lost the GOP control of the US Senate in 2006.

"Toomey represents the Club for Growth which has engaged in cannibalistic tactics. When they fought [now 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."

The 2006 election shifting control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats cost Specter his long-sought and briefly attained goal to serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In that position Specter helped confirm then-President George W. Bush's nominations of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Samuel Alito as Associate Justice. Yet in Specter's eyes there was still plenty of work to do on judicial nominations in the Bush presidency, work he was unable to accomplish after yielding the chairman's gavel to Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. Specter's own unhappiness at the results he attributed to the Club and Toomey was plain, making it clear he would be reminding conservative voters unhappy with his vote for the Obama stimulus package of his work getting Bush judges on the bench.

"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.

Even as Specter was speaking, his re-election campaign was flooding the air with a television commercial tying Toomey to the current economic crisis. It zings Toomey for selling "risky derivatives and swaps" in his earlier career as a Wall Street "trader." The ad, featuring Specter himself as opposed to just the usual candidate-required voice-over at the close saying he approved of the contents, goes on to say, "it's derivatives and swaps that have now plunged us into this financial mess." The commercial says the former Allentown Congressman wants to "gamble" with Pennsylvanians' Social Security accounts by putting them in the stock market, a particularly potent charge in a state that has a high proportion of senior citizens. It also charges Toomey with fighting for less oversight of regulation on Wall Street while serving in Congress. The ad ends by using a word that has become explosive in recent weeks. After all of these alleged Toomey misdeeds, the commercial asks if he should be given Specter's Senate seat as a "bonus."

As if the point were missed, while Specter was calmly discussing playing "hard hardball" his campaign had released a letter from Specter to Toomey accusing him of deliberately editing his biography on the Club for Growth website to remove previous references to his Wall Street connections. Notably, the missive was signed by Specter himself instead of a campaign aide. The letter said:

A recent check of the Club for Growth's website shows that your official bio has been altered to delete any reference to the many years you spent selling risky derivatives for the Wall Street firm Morgan, Grenfell Finance.

Your original online bio (http://www.clubforgrowth.org/toomey.php) stated that you "developed and managed a $21 billion derivatives trading operation for Morgan Grenfell Finance Inc. in New York, supervising sales and trading operations in New York, London and Tokyo."

Yet your new online bio (http://clubforgrowth.com/pat-bio.php) omits any mention of your work as a derivatives trader, merely noting that your "first career was in investment banking from 1984 through 1991," with Morgan Grenfell Finance, Inc.

In the 1999 Derivatives Magazine article about your finance career, entitled "Patrick Toomey: From Wall Street to Capitol Hill," you boast of joining Morgan Grenfell to start a "serious derivatives operation."

Could you please explain the discrepancy about this basic fact of your professional career?

Why did you seek to omit this fact as you ready your Senate campaign?

When were the changes made?

Sincerely,

Arlen Specter
United States Senator

In his Spectator interview Senator Specter made it clear that he believed Toomey was simply unelectable should he win the nomination.

"There's no way Toomey can win a general election," Specter 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." He recounted in a disturbed tone the Santorum 2006 defeat to Democrat and now-Senator Bob Casey. "Santorum spent $31 million, two-term senator, number three in leadership and he lost by 18 points."

Also in the race, by the way, is pro-life activist Peg Luksik. Perhaps tellingly, Specter never mentioned her name, concentrating all his fire on Toomey.

As if to drive the point home yet again about the consequences of the GOP's losing control of the Senate he added: "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."

There was no mistaking Specter's willingness to demonstrate his clout as the state's senior Senator. The same morning he spoke with the Spectator he dropped by Harrisburg Hospital bearing a check for $190,000 in federal emergency room funds. If Republicans were to re-gain control of the Senate, he has pointed out, he could become Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

While Toomey was announcing his own candidacy on Wednesday, Specter, in typically combative style, was invading his opponent's home turf. Showing up for a press conference in the lobby of a Four Points Sheraton -- in Allentown.

Arlen Specter has had one of the most remarkable careers in Pennsylvania political history. While he won his first race -- an upset GOP win for District Attorney of Philadelphia in 1965 -- other than a successful re-election in 1969 he chalked up a series of vivid losses over the next decade and a half. First for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1967, next for a 1973 re-election bid as DA, then the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in 1976 (losing to then Congressman John Heinz) and finally a loss of the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Dick Thornburgh in 1978. It wasn't until 1980 that Specter was finally able to succeed, capturing the Senate seat he holds today -- as a record-holding five-termer.

As Toomey and many others before him have come to understand, perhaps Specter's single greatest attribute as a candidate is his relentless persistence, a true grit that in recent years has come to be symbolized by conquering everything from repeated political defeats to brain surgery to cancer. To get into a political fight with Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania -- or for that matter with Senator Arlen Specter in Washington -- is to know that you have been in the fight of your life. This refusal to bend to the prevailing winds has infuriated conservatives (lately on the Obama stimulus bill) and sent liberals around the bend (his staunch defense of Supreme Court nominees Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.) Through it all, Specter just keeps on coming.

Can he do it again? Can he break his own record -- already a Pennsylvania one-of-a-kind record -- by winning an unprecedented sixth term in the U.S. Senate? Only a fool would count Arlen Specter out.

After launching his series of verbal missiles at Toomey, Specter laughed as he turned to leave for his next stop accompanied by a solitary aide. The eyes twinkled, but the voice, even in humor, imparted a warning sense of steel.

"After this I'm going to send a tough one."

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.