Dave Weigel takes an informative look inside Arlen Specter’s pre-primary efforts to remake himself into a more conservative figure, the better to fend off a strong challenge from former Congressman Pat Toomey. The basic gist of Specter, as I understand it, is that Pennsylvania conservative see him as fundamentally a liberal squish who dashes right whenever he’s facing a challenge from the right. Pennsylvania progressives, meanwhile, see him as fundamentally a conservative who dashes left whenever he’s facing a challenge from the left. Everyone hates him, in other words, except the voters of Pennsylvania who seem to like him just fine.
The fundamental situation looks quite good for Toomey to me. He almost beat Specter in 2004 at a time when a very popular conservative incumbent president was strongly backing the more moderate choice. Without those kinds of friends in high places to back him up, Specter should be in big trouble. The question then becomes whether or not a top-tier Democrat will emerge to run against Toomey. There’s no real evidence that an orthodox conservative can win in Pennsylvania anymore than an orthodox conservative could win in Maryland or Delaware or New Jersey. But Specter is hugely popular so PA Democrats haven’t been clamoring to get into a hard-to-win race against him. Toomey, by contrast, would be very beatable if a solid candidate emerged.