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PA-Sen: Polls Spell Trouble For Specter

Polls indicate former Rep. Pat Toomey is putting forth a strong challenge to five-term incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.

Less than 24 hours after Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, two new polls show that he faces a very difficult battle against former Rep. Pat Toomey in next year's Republican primary.

The surveys -- one by Quinnipiac University, the other by Franklin & Marshall College -- show varying degrees of vulnerability for Specter. (For more on the discrepancies between the two surveys and why, make sure to check out Jenn Agiesta's breakdown on "Behind the Numbers.")

The Q poll paints a VERY dire picture for Specter. Not only does he trail Toomey 41 percent to 27 percent in a Republican primary matchup but he also has dismal approval ratings (29 percent favorable/47 percent unfavorable) among self-identified Republicans. Toomey, by contrast, has a 24 percent favorable/ two percent unfavorable rating among GOPers -- a sign that he is not terribly well known but is well liked among those who do know him.

The Franklin & Marshall survey provided better news for Specter as he led Toomey 33 percent to 18 percent in a head to head matchup. But, a whopping 42 percent of voters said they didn't know which candidate they preferred -- a potential trouble spot for the incumbent given that Toomey is far more in line with the views of the average Republican primary voter than Specter and has, therefore, an easier case to make to those undecided voters.

The F&M poll also showed 46 percent of voters believed it is "time for a change" in the Senate while 40 percent said Specter deserves reelection, a reflection that voters may by tiring of the five-term incumbent.

What these polls make clear is that regardless of his position on EFCA, Specter is in deep trouble next year.

He was able to narrowly beat back a challenge from Toomey -- by just over 17,000 votes out of more than one million cast -- in 2004 but conservative unrest toward him has only grown over the intervening six years. And, as Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz noted in a terrific story on the race, the party registration trends in the state are working against Specter.

"We've believed for a long time that Senator Specter is vulnerable in both a primary and a general election which is Pennsylvania will be a top race for us this year," said Eric Schultz, communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "No amount of 11th hour squirming is going to change that."

With all of that said, it would be a mistake to count Specter out. He has proven throughout his political career that he is an able politician who seems to be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at will. He is also ready and willing to take on this fight against Toomey, evidenced by the $5.8 million he showed on hand at the end of 2008.

Our prediction: The Specter-Toomey primary will be among the nastiest and most expensive in the nation with a variety of outside groups weighing in. Who will win? Who knows? That uncertainty is what makes it such a good race.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 25, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party , Senate  
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Toomey is still well-liked in the Lehigh Valley, the 3rd largest metro area in PA outside of Philly and Pitt and arguably the most targeted swing district in the state. His fiscal conservatism could help him downstate-a Specter stronghold-while his social stances should help in the northeast (Casey territory). It may be trivial now, but he could be hurt the most by Peg Luksik, who could pull away 2-3% in the primaries. Should be a great race.

Posted by: Flyerfan1 | March 26, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm not in PA, so I need to ask: Is there any substance to the assertion that it was the Union members and their boots on the ground that kept Specter in the Senate back in 2004? If so, wouldn't his flip-flop in EFCA (and knife in the backs of those union members) essentially doom his chances of surviving in a general election?

The unions are more organized and energized then ever from the 2008 election and they'll be ready to go again in 2010. It would seem that it would be impossible for Specter to win without their support.

Then again, he was probably sure to lose the primary if he voted for the EFCA, so he's damned if he did and damned if he didn't support it.

Boy, it really does suck to be a moderate in the repub party these days.

Posted by: PeixeGato1 | March 26, 2009 12:59 AM | Report abuse

I recall reading that Specter has suggested pulling out of the primary and running as an independent while caucausing with the Repubs. The Fix needs to report on the chances of this happening.

Posted by: Renu1 | March 26, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Gloriousglo13 I live in one of the PA districts so carefully redrawn by the Republican party the last time out. As you might guess, I have a Republican Congressman,Jim Gerlach. He's a nice guy and all, and he makes some nice bipartisan noises ever-other-year, just before the election so we can feel good about reelcting him. Sometimes, I'm tempted to vote for him. Then I remind myself that he spent the last 8 years lock-step with the Bush administration and I pull that lever for the Democrat running against him. When he says those nice bipartisan things he's lying to me. And his party lets him lie to me as long as he votes the right way.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | March 25, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

margaretmyers posted:
"I've lived in Eastern Pennsylvania since '91 and I had no idea who Toomey is."

HELLO? Toomey nearly beat Snarlin' Arlen in the last primary. Specter sealed his doom with his critical vote for the porkulus spending bill.

Bye bye Arlen.

Posted by: j9zig1 | March 25, 2009 9:43 PM | Report abuse


I'm from central PA (PA-5) and would actually be happy to have Toomey instead of our current congressman. At least Toomey seems smart. GT Thompson sounds like his elevator isn't going to the top floor.

I'm not sure you really need talking down -- look at your list. Rendell crushed Swann, Casey pummeled Santorum, so the closest one was Sestak over Weldon (who was a multiple term incumbent). Specter beat Hoeffel because a lot of moderate Ds and Is voted for him. Those are votes that Toomey is just not going to get (mine included). And if PA D candidate can get BHO's e-mail list, look out.

Oh, and remember that Jack Wagner got even more votes than BHO did state-wide.

Posted by: mnteng | March 25, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse


Do something -- tell your story to the American Civil Liberties Union (link below).

And read in the "comments" section the ongoing account of a journalist in search of his First and Fourth Amendment rights -- free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Then demand that ACLU renew its free speech fight by filing a class-action suit against unconstitutional, rogue government surveillance operations.

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 25, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

"But Dodd will lose in CT, so that's 59. But then Gregg of NH isn't running, so that's likely back to 60 for the Dems."

You're assuming that 1. Dodd still seeks reelection and 2. He wins the Democratic nomination. I wouldn't be surprised if he bows out. Lamont is looking at the governors office, but I wouldn't be shocked if he reconsiders and runs for Senate again instead.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | March 25, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm from the Lehigh Valley and Toomey was my congressman some time ago. He is an affable, well spoken guy who seems to have some personal charm. Having said that, he is right out of the Rick Santorum/Grover Norquist/Club for Growth/Ayn Rand/screw the Little Folks wing of the GOP. He could slip by if GOP turnout is good. Somebody talk me down over this....then again I worried about Weldon beating Sestak, Swan beating Eddie, and Sanitarium beating Casey

Posted by: gloriousglo13 | March 25, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

mark_in_austin and bsimon1:

"sample of one" -- I like it. I may have to change my username.

While I would definitely change my registration to R to vote for Specter over Toomey, I don't know many others who will, either because of ideology or disinterest. BHO's Presidential run did a number on the R and I registration in PA. But I'll wait to see if Toomey follows through on his threat to challenge Specter before I change my registration again.

The Ds have a larger stable of good to excellent candidates. But for now, they seem to be playing the waiting game, not announcing their candidacies. Off the top of my head, I imagine that any one of the following Ds could beat any R: Sestak, Allyson Schwartz, Jack Wagner (Auditor General who won reelection with something like 60% of the vote), and maybe even babyfaced Patrick Murphy. Sestak and Schwartz are particularly good at fund raising (I think they each have millions of $$ left over from the last election). If any of those 4 run, I would still rather vote in the R primary. Then, hopefully I would get to decide between Specter and one of the 4.

Don't ask me who I'd vote for in a Toomey vs. Torsella general election ...

Posted by: mnteng | March 25, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I hope he finally goes down in flames - another worthless rethugnican.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | March 25, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

margaretmeyers, thanx for the translation service. From you, I catch a glimpse of your local politics that I would have missed completely.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | March 25, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

angriestdogintheworld, are you making a joke about Flouride? The porrpeople of Philadelphia get flouride in their water, but out here on the Main Line we do not.

There's the Republican legacy: my kids and I are safe from the dangers and benefits of flouride.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | March 25, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I've lived in Eastern Pennsylvania since '91 and I had no idea who Toomey is. I thought for sure he must be "from over the mountains" (Western PA) and was really surprised to see he's from LeHigh -- only an hour or so away.

I suspect the GOP is fooling with us when they say he's a cinch to beat Specter. "Say it often enough and people think its true" is pretty much the way they operate now, especially when trying to spin the opinion of the press.

Toomey may loom large to a noisy segment of the GOP, but the rest of us in PA don't know him from Adam. The closed primary works against Specter, and I 'm sorry for the guy: his OWN party is d!cking him over -- there's loyalty for you.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | March 25, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

mark_in_austin writes
"we know a moderate in PA who has voted for Specter before... would he re-register as an R to vote for Specter in the primary?"

I was thinking of our sample of one when I wrote earlier. I'm hoping for more on-the-ground input from PA moderates.

Posted by: bsimon1 | March 25, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Specter is a cancer survivor.... I doubt seriously he gives more than a passing smile for the latest of the repugnot, yuppie swimmy heads. The Floride repugnot have been after him since he sat against Nixon. Plenty of Democrats vote for this one repug. If the repugnot are not careful Specter will switch parties and really roach their buzz units.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | March 25, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for Senate term limits.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 25, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

isn't specter a "bow tie"???
got to get rid of the "bow ties".
they are past retirement age.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | March 25, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Oh, it's Toomey this and Toomey that, and "Arlen, step aside"
But it's "Senate seat for Specter" with the GOoPers on the schneid.

Posted by: mattintx | March 25, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Can you say 60 seat filibuster proof majority for the Democrats?

But Dodd will lose in CT, so that's 59. But then Gregg of NH isn't running, so that's likely back to 60 for the Dems.


Posted by: sequoiaqueneaux | March 25, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The best thing that could happen to the Democrats is a Tommey win. I know Republicans love to call him a RINO but he is one more vote that keeps the Democrats below 60. With Toomey in the race the Democrat will win in a landslide. I hope the Republicans go after him!

Posted by: bradcpa | March 25, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Specter's age and problematic health could render all this speculation moot. Whom could moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania run against Toomey if Specter's not up to it? If Toomey's the Republican candidate, then the Democrats take easily this Senate seat in 2010.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 25, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

bsimon, we know a moderate in PA who has voted for Specter before. From what he has written here he would like Sestak to run for the Ds.

Given the possibility of a close R race, but no D race, would he re-register as an R to vote for Specter in the primary? I suspect EFCA is a non-issue for him.

mnteng, come in please.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | March 25, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

When Specter voted to give telecoms retroactive immunity for warrantless wiretapping, he lost the support of many moderates and democrats in his district. The Senator had repeatedly called for a determination by courts as to the constitutional validity of the warantless wiretapping. When he failed to get protections for the constitution, he voted for the bill anyway. I believe this violated his oath of office and undermined everything he had said publicly about how he intended to vote. When confronted by a standoff with the Bush administration about seperation of powers, he made a political calculation and capitulated -constitution be damned.
As a registered democrat in Specter's 8th district, I have always voted for Specter. As I wrote him after this vote, not only will I never vote for him again, I will actively work for any democrat who opposes him. Had he voted against retroactive immunity, he would have had my full support and even a donation.
Of course, if he can't win the primary, that won't be an issue.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | March 25, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I also don't think history is that strong a guide here. PA is shifting radically, and so is Specter to try to keep his head above water. I very much doubt he will survive the primary, but taking the steps necessary to win the primary will eviscerate his moderate credentials in the general. If Specter stays in it, I'd suspect he'd face off against New Democrat Allyson Schwartz, who would win handily.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | March 25, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

If the Dems put up anyone reasonable, it is a lock. As a Dem, I have a lot of respect for Specter, but will that matter if he doesn't make it out of the primary?

The effect at the national level is that the Republican party is going much farther from the mainstream. I always thought Specter kept Republicans from getting too far away from center.

Posted by: cyberfool | March 25, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

For you, CC -- I'm sure you'll be doing a piece soon about how boring obama is, all the kool DC kids are...
how he always 'needs a teleprompter' -- as if that had anything to do with anything...

"Memewatch: Obama is really a poor communicator

It’s not an accident that so many righties settled on the “Obama is boring” meme this morning. The idea of attacking what is perceived to be Obama’s greatest strength—his ability as a communicator—has been brewing for a while. It’s what all the yammering about the teleprompter is about. It’s what all the hand-wringing about Obama’s jokes is about. And they’ve already phrased it in the convenient Slate/TNR contrarian “myth-busting” form that media types love so much (Ben Smith gushed over this piece):

"2. Obama is a great communicator. Cut away the soaring rhetoric in his speeches, and the resulting policy statements are often vague, lawyerly and confusing. He is not plain-spoken: He parses his language so much that a casual listener will miss important caveats. That’s in part why he uses teleprompters for routine policy statements: He chooses his words carefully, relying heavily on ill-defined terms like “deficit reduction” (which means tax increases, rather than actual “savings”) and “combat troops” (as opposed to “all troops in harm’s way”).

4. Obama is smooth. Despite being deliberate, Obama is surprisingly gaffe-prone. Reporters on my e-mail lists last year know he consistently mispronounced, misnamed or altogether forgot where he was. (In one typical gaffe in Sioux Falls, S.D., he started his speech with an enthusiastic “Thank you, Sioux City!”) His geographic gaffes are not just at routine rallies but at major events, including the Democratic National Convention and his first address to Congress. Any politician occasionally misspeaks, but the frequency of Obama’s flubs is notable."

This is a classic Rovean technique—attacking your opponent where he is strongest. I happen to think it is a smart technique in many cases. I’m skeptical whether “Obama is teh boring” will work right now, because the public is more focused on the next paycheck than on whether or not they find Obama’s pressers entertaining.

But make no mistake: right-wing media types will be pushing this hard over the next few months. And when even a pretty good reporter like Ben Smith is eating it up, you can bet we’ll be hearing a lot about it in the media."

Posted by: drindl | March 25, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Jay20 writes
" With the exception of the relatively short-lived Senate career of Rick Santorum, every winner of a state-wide election in the past twenty years has either been a moderate Republican or (relatively) conservative Democrat... As counterintuitve as this sounds right now, I think Specter is an odds-favorite to win another term by a margin of more than four percentage points."

Jay, that's a reasonable point, but assumes a Specter victory in the primary. The Fix's point is that Specter's odds in the primary are getting longer. The dynamic at play is where the politically active moderates will go. Large numbers seemed to have reregistered as Ds in order to vote in the Dem presidential primary in 2008. Will they reregister as Rs in large enough numbers to save Specter in 2010?

Posted by: bsimon1 | March 25, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Gah, would people -- any people really elect Toomey once they get a look at him? He looks like a particularly creepy undertaker, with extra white makeup around his eyes.


Posted by: drindl | March 25, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Folks, let's keep something in mind: Sen. Specter has been pronounced dead on arrival in every single elction cycle since he ran against Lynn Yeakel in 1992. With the exception of the relatively short-lived Senate career of Rick Santorum, every winner of a state-wide election in the past twenty years has either been a moderate Republican or (relatively) conservative Democrat --- see Thornburgh, the Caseys, Wofford and Rendell for details. As counterintuitve as this sounds right now, I think Specter is an odds-favorite to win another term by a margin of more than four percentage points.

Posted by: Jay20 | March 25, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Pennsylvania has a CLOSED primary AND a "Sore Loser" rule. So Specter CANNOT do a Lieberman. First, if he runs as a Republican and loses the Primary he is NOT allowed to run in the General Election under a different party. This is the "Sore Loser" rule.
Secondly, if he wants to run as an Independent, then he would have to change parties BEFORE the primary. And he has already said that he will NOT change parties.
Whether he wins the Primary or not, now that he has lost labor's backing, he cannot win a general election. Toomey would lose by an even bigger margin.

Specter has an even bigger challenge among conservative Republicans than his vote for the stimulus bill and that is his Pro-Choice stand. The right-wing conservatives in the Republican Party in Pennslvania are even MORE opposed to Specter's long standing support for abortion rights. Toomey is a staunch "Right-to-Lifer. They are one issue voters on that.

Posted by: abowers1 | March 25, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Toomey may appeal to the right of center Republican primary voters but will fail in the general election. Another moderate Republican will lose their seat...

Posted by: RickJ | March 25, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Like Kreuz, I suspect the Lieberman analogy is not directly applicable to Specter. If he runs as an Independant, he & Toomy split the R vote, while the D vote is still a large block. It is not at all clear that Specter would enjoy any of the D vote as a 3rd party candidate.

Posted by: bsimon1 | March 25, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Stick a fork in him.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 25, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

So if Specter loses to Toomey there is a 99% chance the Dems take the seat. If Specter defeats Toomey then there is only a 60-70% chance the Dems take the seat.

Posted by: caribis | March 25, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Curious that the item doesn't even address how either one might fare in a general election.

Posted by: Sutter | March 25, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Another case where the extended 2008 Democratic primary fight will help Dems in the long run. THe emphasis on PA late in the race led to a wave of moderate Republicans switching to the Dem side, making the primary electorate more conservative than the one that narrowly renominated Specter last time.

I doubt "pulling a Lieberman" would work either, as Lieberman was the de facto Republican nominee (with a token "R" gaining little support from the party) whereas Specter will face a strong challenge from the right garnering most of the Republican base and the Dem nominee holding the Dems who are frustrated with Republican stonewalling in the Senate, led in this very union state by Specter on EFCA among other key issues.

He's done.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | March 25, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

More proof that it's not possible to be moderate and republican at the same time.

Posted by: nodebris | March 25, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I think there is a higher likelyhood that Specter pulls a Liebermann and runs as an independent. He could take the legs out from under any GOPer and the Democrats at the sametime. In a real three way race he wins IMO, especially if Toomey solidifies the GOP extreme right behind him.

Posted by: AndyR3 | March 25, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse



Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is a good and decent man who carries inside him a heavy burden of history.

He can revivify his reputation as a fair-minded advocate for human and civil rights by confronting an ugly truth...

...credible reports of ongoing domestic torture via radiation weaponry approved by the Bush-Cheney Department of Justice for use on civilians deemed as "undesirables" by federal and/or local law enforcement agencies nationwide.

This extrajudicial punishment -- victims say it is nothing less than torture -- is compounded by a coordinated series of multi-agency action "programs of personal destruction" which drain the family finances of the families of unjustly "targeted" persons, making it impossible for them to economically survive.

These programs surely have contributed to the nation's financial meltdown -- and may indeed be a primary cause of the global economic crisis.

Sen. Specter, these abuses are going on in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. You are a skilled prosecutor; if you cared to sharply question police chiefs and other law enforcement and federal officials that you know personally, and if they responded candidly, you could incontrovertibly confirm the accounts presented in the articles linked below -- articles based on first-hand accounts of events happening in the Philadelphia area:


Posted by: scrivener50 | March 25, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like another Senate seat heading to the D column. Once rightwingnut Toomey takes out Specter, the Dems will take the seat by appealing to indy/moderate voters, including moderate Repubs.

Can you say GOP death wish?

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | March 25, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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