After 30 years in the Senate and a politically-motivated party switch last year, pro-abortion Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter watched Democratic voters pull the plug on his political career last night. Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, who is also pro-abortion, trounced Specter to win his party’s Senate primary, and will now square off against pro-life Republican Pat Toomey, who has waited six years for this moment to happen again, in the November election.
While Specter has claimed in the past that he is “personally” against abortion, the National Right to Life Committee gave the senator a 0 percent rating for 2009-2010, meaning that in his voting record he has been firmly “pro-choice.”
Specter’s decision to jump ship from the GOP last year was crucial to giving President Obama his 60th Democratic vote – making the Democrat-controlled Senate filibuster proof up until this year’s special election of GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
Election returns show that Sestak trounced Specter with 54 percent to 46 percent. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who endorsed Specter over Sestak, blamed the rain for depressing turnout in Philadelphia, a Specter stronghold, leading to the five-term senator’s loss.
President Obama also endorsed Specter, but opted to stay away from campaigning in Pennsylvania for the former GOPer, whose defection last year to the Democratic caucus Obama welcomed with open arms. Given that the last three candidates that Obama campaigned for – Jon Corzine, Creigh Deeds, Martha Coakley – all lost their battles in Democratic strongholds to Republican challengers, the White House seemed reluctant to develop further the narrative that Obama’s endorsement is toxic.
And for good reason: a recent Quinnipiac poll of 1161 Pennsylvania voters found the president has a negative 46 – 48 percent job approval in the blue-collar state.
However, what may have done Specter in was his admission that he switched parties last year as a politically calculated move, in order to face an almost certain primary loss from the ascendant Toomey. Democratic voters, instead, proved yesterday the adage “the traitor is loved, the treason hated” in replacing Specter with Sestak, a lifelong Democrat and former navy rear-admiral.
Six years ago, Specter was still a Republican and facing a tough primary challenge from the pro-life and conservative Toomey, who seemed poised to topple the pro-abortion Senator. However, Specter managed to survive by getting an endorsement from President George W. Bush, and political support from pro-life then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), beating Toomey by the barest of margins: 1.7 percent.
At the time a political calculation to support Specter may have been in the works, since Specter was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Bush was looking to regain GOP control of the Senate. But the endorsement likely proved fatal to Santorum, who had soured his conservative and pro-life base by sandbagging Toomey, and consequently lost his own re-election bid to Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.) by a fair margin in 2006.
Santorum has since apologized to conservatives for his endorsement of Specter, and told conservatives at this year’s February CPAC conference that he was hoping to make good for the mistake by working “day and night” to make Pat Toomey Pennsylvania’s next conservative Republican Senator.
Quinnipiac showed Toomey, as of a week ago, in a dead heat with Sestak, 42–40 percent, with a plus/minus 2.9 percent margin of error. However Toomey is likely to benefit from a general anti-incumbent mood in the electorate, which has soured on the president’s policies, especially over the unpopular and divisive health care reform bill, which was passed into law in March.