Specter’s Dilemma


Pat Toomey nearly beat Arlen Specter in a 2004 primary. Earlier this year, he ruled out another primary challenge to Pennsylvania’s senior senator, but more recently he’s been ruling it back in. This sets up an interesting dilemma that Dave Weigel explains:

A weekend poll showed that 66 percent of Republicans, boiling over in anti-stimulus anger, would support replacing Specter. But only 42 percent of Democrats oppose Specter. A slight plurality of Democrats want to keep him, and that’s complicating Democratic efforts to find a first-tier challenger against the senator.

In 2004, Specter benefitted from the support of unions like the AFL-CIO. If Specter votes for the Employee Free Choice Act, he knows he will probably win union support that’s crucial for the general election while firing the starting gun for conservative groups who are only really useful to him in the primary.

In the 2007-2008 congress Specter, no doubt in part as a token of appreciation for that AFL-CIO support, was the lone Republican to back EFCA. If he votes for it again this congress, it’ll be tough for him to win the primary. But if he votes against it, I think he’ll find it tough to win the general election when his support from Democratic-leaning interest groups vanishes. I doubt Specter will avail himself of this option, but the obvious solution would be to stick to his guns on EFCA and follow up his support for the stimulus by switching parties and, like Jim Jeffords, reposition ideologically somewhat. In other words, stop being a vulnerable moderate Republican and become a plain-vanilla Democrat with a safe seat. It would be pretty easy for Specter, as a Democrat, to beat GOP nominee Toomey in a general election. But beating Toomey in a primary without becoming too right-wing to carry the state will be tough.