CHRIS PUMMER: Recent polls might paint a rosy picture for Pat Toomey in his quest for one of Pennsylvania’s Senate seats. Rasmussen has the likely Republican nominee beating both Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter — the two Democratic contenders.
That’s probably only because since the five-term incumbent Specter left the Republican Party to join the Democrats, he and Sestak have taken their digs at each other as the posture for primary voters in their own party.
Once voters choose between them — and my hunch is they’ll go with Specter — support will coalesce around the candidate.
Toomey has already benefited on that score. Since Specter left the GOP, he was the only credible candidate left. He’s been the presumptive nominee since last spring.
But once the spotlight starts to move from the Specter-Sestak squabble, it will probably focus more on Toomey and the foibles that make him less electable than either of his potential foes.
As a former president for the Club For Growth, Toomey is an unabashed conservative, and likely won’t tone down the right-wing rhetoric for the general election. Even with the Club For Growth pumping two million dollars into his campaign against Specter in the 2004 Republican primary, the party establishment — including then-president George W. Bush fellow right-winger and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum — felt Toomey was so unelectable that it threw its support behind Specter. Toomey lost the primary by less than two percent.
Toomey would have been the hands-down favorite to knock of Specter in a 2010 primary. Not because Toomey’s popularity is surging, but because moderates in Pennsylvania have been leaving the GOP.
They haven’t been leaving the state. The rolls of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania have swelled, giving either Sestak or Specter a huge advantage. Specter in particular could win big if Democratic voter rally behind him and he poaches moderates that remain in the Republican ranks.
Pennsylvania just isn’t likely support a far-right candidate. That’s why it hasn’t gone for a Republican president since 1988. It’s why the state went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama last year. And that’s why Santorum was soundly defeated by Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006.
That doesn’t mean Pennsylvania is always a Democratic slam dunk. Specter was elected five times as a Republican. Santorum was elected to the Senate twice. And Casey is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus.
But while Pennsylvanians have strong strains of conservatism, they are overall moderate and pragmatic.
Toomey appears to be neither of those thing, preferring instead to brand himself as an extreme conservative ideologue.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Chris’s analysis of Pennsylvania is spot-on. But that is merely the playing field, and other dynamics point to Pat Toomey having a far better shot than he typically would- in 2010, Toomey may indeed have a friend in Pennsylvania.
Let’s start with his opponent. Should Arlen Specter win the nomination, we have yet to see how strong Democratic support will be for him as a nominee. After all, his base has been the GOP in all general election victories.
That is likely to be further tested by a contentious primary against Joe Sestak, who has already signaled that he will be running with the message that Specter simply isn’t a real Democrat.
While Specter’s response has been to go almost laughably leftward- see his rhetoric on Afghanistan, for instance- the result could well give Arlen a Mitt Romney problem. There’s simply too many conflicting videos of Arlen Specter arguing against himself. If this becomes a referendum on consistency, Pat Toomey’s weakness- his unfailingly rightward tilt- could turn into a strength.
Specter will also face an economy that could well continue to be hostile to incumbents, regardless of party. Certainly, the current outlook is far from rosy in Pennsylvania. And as of right now, the national tide looks like it could be an enemy of Arlen Specter’s new party.
And as we saw in the tea party debacles this summer, Specter is no longer a great think-on-your-feet politician. He is susceptible to some of the unexpected twists and turns every campaign brings.
The stadium gives Specter the edge. But the opposition is far stronger than simply Pat Toomey alone.