Sen. Arlen Specter will remain a member of the advisory committee of the Republican Majority for Choice, even after the group continues to attack his Pennsylvania colleague Sen. Rick Santorum — the man to whom he owes his 2004 primary victory.
After TAS reported last week that Specter is tied to the pro-abortion group attacking Santorum, Specter issued a statement late last Friday, March 3, decrying their tactics and threatening to resign. That threat was apparently conditional upon the RMC’s future action:
I call on the RMC to repudiate and renounce any effort to defeat Senator Santorum.
I will withhold my decision on whether to resign from the RMC’s advisory board until I see what further action RMC takes on this matter.
RMC’s next public action was to place an op-ed in Wednesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer lumping Sen. Santorum with South Dakota’s pro-life lawmakers, who enacted a sweeping abortion ban on Monday.
In the op-ed, Jennifer Blei Stockman, national co-chair of Republican Majority for Choice, cited the South Dakota development as a further step in the alienation of “mainstream Republicans.” She continued,
Here in Pennsylvania, rank-and-file Republicans are withholding their support for the poster child of the religious right wing, Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum finds himself down in some polls by nearly 15 points, and yet he continues to push a religious agenda out of step with most Americans. Through his own rhetoric in opposition to contraception and his comparison of abortion to slavery in his book It Takes a Family, he continues to discount the strong moderate majority in this state and across the country who disagree with his agenda.
Last election, school board members in the Dover Area School District who had voted to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” found themselves suddenly out of a job — just as Santorum might this November. But Republicans giving the boot to extremists isn’t just a Pennsylvania phenomenon, it’s the beginning of a movement in the GOP by the moderate majority.
Such criticism of Santorum closely mirrored the language of RMC’s “Help Wanted: Real Republican Candidates for Senate” ads, as well as her remarks to TAS. Ms. Stockman’s continued opposition to Santorum would seem to trigger Specter’s condition, which he publicly established in his March 3 letter, and leave him no choice but to resign from the RMC’s advisory board.
But Specter’s not resigning. His press secretary, Scott Hoeflich, told TAS that Specter “thinks it is important to stay as an advisor in order to influence the RMC to abide by the Big Tent policy which should include both Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter.” Hoeflich also released yesterday Specter’s letter to the Inquirer, dated March 8, which again criticizes the RMC attack and reaffirms, “Without his support, I would not have won the 2004 Republican primary. Senator Santorum’s re-election is my top priority in 2006.”
Hoeflich mentioned that Specter spoke to Stockman “earlier this week,” at which time she pledged not to attack Santorum in the future. He added, “Her letter was sent before she made that commitment.” (By “letter” he apparently meant her op-ed.) The burning question is when this conversation took place. Hoeflich was not available late in the day yesterday to answer it. Stockman likely knew where Specter stood on the matter by Monday. If RMC respected his position and knew of his response, they would not have submitted the Inquirer op-ed — because the events in South Dakota took place Monday. If Specter spoke to Stockman on Monday or Tuesday, Stockman could have contacted the Inquirer and pulled the op-ed. Under that scenario, RMC’s commitment not to attack Santorum appears less than enthusiastic.
A spokesman for the RMC confirmed that Stockman spoke to Specter this week, but could not provide any further details about the conversation.
Regardless of the strength of the commitment and when it was made, Republican Majority for Choice probably will not fade away. The group appears intent on forcing this issue and Santorum’s tight race against Bob Casey Jr. is their test case. Sen. Specter, with his gratitude for Santorum and gentlemanly sensibility about displaying that gratitude, will distance himself from RMC. But as long as Specter lends his name to them, they remain relevant, and the Senator’s headaches will likely continue until November.