The specter in Pennsylvania


Geraldine Sealey
April 20, 2004 7:03PM (UTC)

This week, George W. Bush made his 27th trip to Pennsylvania in the last four years, indicating just how important the battleground state is to his re-election hopes. Another key reason for the visit, though, was to give a boost to GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, who's facing quite a primary fight against a conservative challenger -- one who's more like Bush, politically, than Specter is. According to this Quinnipiac poll, conservative voters in Pennsylvania are steering away from Specter because they're buying challenger Rep. Pat Toomey's charge that the incumbent is "too liberal" for Pennsylvania. Indeed, a conservative PAC's political attack ads running in the Keystone State are lumping Specter along with John Kerry. Specter's lead is now down to 49-44 percent over Toomey.

The president is going out of his way to help Specter, who, as this Philadelphia Inquirer article pointed out, told a magazine in 2000 that Bush was "born with a platinum spoon in his mouth." While doing some cheerleading for Specter this week, Bush acknowledged: "He's a little independent-minded sometimes ...There's nothing wrong with that."

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Why not let Specter twist in the wind while a more acceptable conservative nips at the moderate's heels? A few reasons. If Toomey scares moderates away he could lose in the fall to the Democratic candidate, while the more centrist Specter could have a better chance, thus helping keep the GOP majority in the Senate. If Specter sticks around the Senate, he'd head the Judiciary Committee and presumably, after Bush's backing in this tough race, would be more likely to help jam Bush's judicial picks through the nomination process.

But most important to Bush is how Specter could help him beat John Kerry come fall. As the Inquirer wrote: "Specter argues that his centrist record could help Bush appeal to moderate voters, particularly in Philadelphia's moderate-leaning suburbs, a strong base for the senator and an area where one-third of the state's registered Republicans reside. Bush lost the region -- and the state -- in the 2000 election against former Vice President Al Gore."

Keep your eye on Pennsylvania's primary next Tuesday, it could weigh big-time on the presidential election.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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