Toomey is betting that Republicans would do better in a blue-leaning state like Pennsylvania if they purged the last remaining moderates from the party. He’s (again) challenging Arlen Specter – and this time, unlike last, he may well succeed. Just as Ned Lamont succeeded against Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary…
Toomey theorizes that Republicans would do better in Pennsylvania if they were more outspokenly prolife and defiantly opposed to the Obama economic plan. The reality: If nominated, Toomey’s prolife views would cost him what remains of traditional Republican support in the Philadelphia suburbs and his anti-stimulus stance would damage him with working-class voters elsewhere in the state.
As I’ve said before, in 2004 Specter-Toomey was a no-brainer for conservatives. Republicans controlled the Senate and were favored to expand their majority regardless of what happened in Pennsylvania. The political climate was somewhat more conservative. It was worth rolling the dice on a more conservative congressman who had a track record of winning in a swing district that had recently voted for Democratic presidential candidates. Toomey didn’t look like a sure loser, even though he was a much riskier proposition, and Specter was expendable.
Five years later, with the Democrats one seat a way from a 60-seat Senate majority, Specter doesn’t look so expendable. At the moment, Toomey looks even riskier. Specter’s numbers among Democrats and independents are almost as good as his numbers among Republicans are bad. I don’t think a primary is a bad thing — Specter might be in a different place on card check without Pat Toomey in the race, for example — but Pennsylvania Republicans should ask both candidates hard questions. Specter should be asked why he can be counted on to thwart Democratic initiatives more often than enable them. Toomey should be asked why he thinks he can hold on to this Senate seat. And everyone should watch to see how changing political conditions affect Specter’s expendability or Toomey’s viability as 2010 approaches.
In politics, if you don’t win you can’t accomplish your policy goals. But politics isn’t sports and winning isn’t everything. In football, I root for my home team and I don’t care whether Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady or Matt Cassel throws the game-winning touchdown. I just want to win. In politics, you want to win for a purpose: having someone with an “R” next to his or her name win doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t produce the policy results you are seeking.
That’s the dilemma Republicans find themselves in with Specter. Sometimes the best you can do is settle for an imperfect candidate who can win. But ultimately, it is more important to try to shift the political climate in a more favorable direction than to win by accepting the current climate as a given. Look again at the reasons people give for deserting the Pennsylvania GOP — it’s not just abortion or the religious right. There are problems with Republican positions almost across the board. As long as that remains the case, “winning” with such voters will mean some pyrrhic victories along the way.
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