As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PA-Sen: The Specter Of Career's End

I think we now know why Arlen Specter was so hot to announce his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. He was in danger of becoming irrelevant in the GOP:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter trails a lesser-known challenger in the 2010 Republican primary, an indication of the political hit he has taken in his party's base for giving crucial support to the Democratic-drafted $787 billion economic stimulus, according to a new poll.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey, a conservative leader from the Lehigh Valley, leads Specter 41 to 27 percent in a hypothetical matchup in a Quinnipiac University survey released today.

Although Toomey came within 17,000 votes of beating Specter in the 2004 GOP primary, the poll found that 73 percent of Republican voters did not know enough about the likely challenger to form an opinion of him. Seventy-eight percent of all voters had not heard of Toomey.

"Pennsylvania Republicans are so unhappy with Sen. Specter's vote for President Barack Obama's stimulus package and so-called pork barrel spending that they are voting for a former congressman they hardly know," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Toomey came close last time and has strong conservative backing, but his challenge could be fractured if more Republicans crowd into the primary and split the anti-Specter vote."

I doubt that the anti-Specter vote would get split if Toomey jumps in the race, unless Specter would sock-puppet someone to do so. Toomey is well-respected enough by the state GOP that he'd clear the field. And based on this poll, he'd beat Specter like a drum.

So will the tacking hard to the right work out for Specter? Doesn't look like it.

Conservative groups and politicians, far from won over by Specter’s announcement, continue to hammer away at the embattled Senator, suggesting that his abrupt move on EFCA will do little or nothing to reduce his vulnerability to a primary challenge from the right.

For instance, Specter’s announcement drew only mockery and scorn from former GOP Rep. Ernest Istook, the chair of the anti-EFCA group Save Our Secret Ballot.

“Specter enjoys being the center of attention,” Istook said. “There has probably been more money spent to influence his vote on this issue than on any other vote, from any other senator, at any other time. He wants to continue enjoying the attention and the fundraising opportunity.”

Doug Stafford of the anti-EFCA National Right to Work Committee added in a statement that Specter’s move should be “viewed with some skepticism,” adding that other labor-oriented proposals championed by Specter remain “totally unacceptable” and will enable “Big Labor to corral more workers into forced unionism.”

Let me pause from the electoral politics analysis for a second to note that federal labor agencies currently fail workers by neglecting to enforce the laws on the books. For example, the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department mishandled 9 out of 10 cases brought to them by undercover agents, in an investigation from last year. I hope Hilda Solis will rectify this, and have a fair degree of confidence she will, but let's be clear that the current system is irreparably broken. Specter's suggested revisions to labor law wouldn't hurt, but are painfully inadequate.

Back to Specter. It seems like he has almost no support left. Labor is pummeling him for this betrayal, and the hard right has no brief for him either. I have to agree with Jonathan Singer - Arlen is toast.

My prediction, on the basis of this move, is that Specter will not win a sixth term in the United States Senate. I just don't see the path. Even with this move, Specter isn't going to be able to make it out of a Republican primary. He only narrowly beat Toomey in 2004, with the White House on his side, with Rick Santorum on his side, with the fact that the GOP held just a two-seat majority in the Senate at the time on his side, etc. Unless Specter already struck a deal with Toomey -- that in return for Specter siding with the GOP corporatists against working Americans on EFCA, Toomey wouldn't run in the primary -- I can't see a path to renomination for Specter. And given that this move has alienated organized labor, which was likely to support him as an Independent had he supported EFCA, I can't see the path to Specter winning in a three-way race as an Independent against Toomey and a strong Democrat.

I realize that we are more than 19 months away from election day 2010, so I'm going out on somewhat of a limb here. But I'm putting it in writing: I do not believe that Specter will win another term in the Senate next year.

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