Sunday, April 18, 2004

PA GOP Sen. Primary Shows Party Differences

Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter will face off on 4/27 in the Republican primary. The winner will face Joe Hoeffel in November. This Los Angeles Times article details some fundamental GOP problems in this race:

The party's philosophic tensions have been obscured by the absence of a primary challenge to Bush. But the president has been unable to paper over fault lines opened by his vast expansion of Medicare, the growth of government spending and other policies that have angered many conservatives.

The Specter-Toomey fight is a cautionary tale for Bush, a reminder of the balancing act he has to perfect to win reelection. He needs to generate enthusiasm among the kind of conservatives represented by Toomey. But in a swing state such as Pennsylvania — where Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans — Bush cannot afford to alienate the centrist Republicans and Democrats attracted to Specter. That's why some analysts argue that Bush was wise to endorse Specter and would have a harder time winning Pennsylvania if Toomey was on the ticket.

"Bush and Specter are joined at the hip," said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Millersville University, near Lancaster, Pa. And as Republicans strive to maintain or expand their 51 seats in the 100-member Senate, this is an unwelcome fight. A Toomey victory in the primary, some analysts say, should boost the general-election prospects of the expected Democratic Senate nominee, Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel.

"The truth is, if Toomey wins this nomination, this seat is a lot more difficult for Republicans to hold," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Still, for conservative activists concerned about the party's direction, the primary fight is about something even bigger than control of the Senate: It is about the soul of the party.

Specter has infuriated more conservative Republicans over the years by blocking President Reagan's nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, refusing to vote for the impeachment of President Clinton and joining with other centrists in efforts to scale back Bush's tax cuts. Backing Toomey is a phalanx of conservative heavyweights who include Bork, former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes and commentator Paul Weyrich.

Toomey also is a marquee candidate for the Club for Growth, an anti-tax political group that finances primary challenges to Republicans it considers insufficiently conservative. The group hopes that by spending $1 million for anti-Specter ads — and urging its members to contribute to Toomey — it will at least intimidate other centrist Republicans into moving to the right.

Some people say that Hoeffel would have a better chance against Toomey, but the thought of Toomey & Santorum representing PA makes me shudder. Bush will be in Pittsburgh Monday raising money for Specter.

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