Is Specter Too Liberal For Pennsylvania?

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has his hands full this spring, weathering attacks not only from his opponent in the primary but also from a conservative political interest group.

Specter and Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have been running ads since last summer—ahead of the Republican primary on April 27. Toomey is airing attack ads that paint the four-term senator as too liberal. On Feb. 12, conservative group The Club for Growth rolled out an anti-Specter commercial of its own.

The Democratic candidate, Rep. Joe Hoeffel, is running unopposed.

“This is going to be one of the most closely watched elections in the country,” said Toomey press secretary Joe Sterns. “It’s the clearest election in America because of the contrast between the liberal incumbent and the conservative challenger.”

The Club for Growth, which favors the Reagan vision of limited government and lower taxes, is running a spot from Warfield & Co. in New York that claims Specter and John Kerry have voted the same way nearly 70 percent of the time. The group originally said it budgeted more than $150,000 for the campaign, but spending has gone “way beyond that,” said executive director David Keating.

Specter’s campaign organization, Citizens for Arlen Specter, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about the ad. “We allege and believe they coordinated ads with our opponent,” said Specter campaign manager Christopher Nicholas, claiming the Toomey camp has alternated its media buy with The Club for Growth’s. If true, that would violate limits placed on in-kind contributions to federal campaigns. Both Keating and Sterns denied the allegation. The FEC is investigating.

Specter’s strategy includes stressing his support for President Bush (and vice versa), his clout, and security and terrorism issues, said Nicholas.

Ads by Chris Mottola Consulting in Philadelphia include a spot in which a man praises Specter’s efforts to help his daughter, who has a genetic disorder and was denied care by the family’s HMO. Another ad claims Toomey, 42, has been the lone vote against fellow House Republicans 76 times in five years.

Specter, 74, has spent “several million dollars” on ads, said Nicholas, who would not give specifics. “We’ll spend what it takes to win,” he said.

At $6.4 million, the Pennsylvania Senate race ranks second in overall campaign spending this season, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Illinois Senate race is No. 1 at $21.5 million.

Toomey’s campaign, which is focusing on issues such as taxes, spending and medical malpractice, portrays him as having “true Republican values,” said Sterns. Recent ads from Red Sea in Washington, broke in late February. One describes Specter as “the most wasteful senator in the entire Senate.” Sterns said ad spending is “well above” published reports of $1 million but declined to give specifics.

In 1998, Specter won 67 percent of the primary vote and 61 percent in the general election. The 1992 race was closer: He won by 3 percentage points over Democrat Lynn Yeakel.