Now, Specter leads Toomey

The Pennsylvania senator and new Democrat got a big boost in the polls from his party switch.

By Alex Koppelman
Published May 4, 2009 2:00PM (EDT)

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., has reason to be very happy this morning. At the end of March, when he was still a Republican, a Quinnipiac University poll showed him traiing 14 points behind his rival for the GOP nomination, former Rep. Pat Toomey. Today, a new Quinnipiac poll, now pairing the two in a general election matchup, has Specter ahead of Toomey by 20 points.

There are still two things that might put a damper on the good news for Specter, however. First, there's still the possibility that he'll face a Democratic primary challenger. It seems unlikely that such a challenger would be able to get real momentum going, as the Democratic establishment -- from President Obama and Vice President Biden to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell -- will throw its weight behind the incumbent. But there is still that possibility, and there is precedent for a Democratic primary challenger to come out on top even when opposed by the party machine (see Lamont, Ned).

Then there's the prospect that former Gov. Tom Ridge will jump in the race for the Republican nomination. There have been rumors that the GOP will encourage him to do just that, and though conservative activists would oppose any attempt to give Toomey a challenger, a little strategic thinking would show them that's the wrong way to go about this. The Quinnipiac poll has Specter ahead of Ridge, but only barely -- Specter gets 46 percent of respondents' votes, compared to Ridge's 43 percent.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2010 Elections Arlen Specter D-pa. Pat Toomey