Steele, McConnell, & Cornyn: What Are They Doing About Arlen Specter?

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post called Steele, McConnell, & Cornyn: What Are They Doing About Jim Bunning?

It basically pointed out the obvious to anyone who closely follows politics: it’s highly likely that if Jim Bunning is the GOP candidate in Kentucky next year, we’re probably going to lose the seat. Therefore, the people who consider themselves leaders in the party need to step up and do their part to make sure we don’t get put in that position.

Along those lines, I think it’s time for Michael Steele, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn to start thinking about how they’re going to handle Arlen Specter.

As most readers of RWN know, Specter barely edged out Pat Toomey in a 2004 primary. In fact, had Specter not had a tremendous amount of help from the Republican establishment, he would have lost handily in that race.

Well now, Toomey has decided to run again and this time, two of Specter’s biggest supporters from back in 2004, Rick Santorum and George W. Bush, aren’t going to be in a position to do much to help him. Moreover, judging by these poll numbers from Rasmussen polling, Republicans in Pennsylvania strongly prefer Toomey,

Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter trails former Congressman Pat Toomey by 21 points in an early look at Pennsylvania’s 2010 Republican Primary. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Republican voters statewide say they’d vote for Toomey while just 30% would support Specter.

Specter is viewed favorably by 42% of Pennsylvania Republicans and unfavorably by 55%, according to a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of voters in the state. Those are stunningly poor numbers for a long-term incumbent senator. Specter was first elected to the Senate in 1980.
Toomey, who served in the House from 1999 to 2005, earns positive reviews from 66% and negative comments from just 19%.

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Though Specter has been in the Senate for 28 years, he has struggled to maintain grassroots support within his own party during recent years. Six years ago, the incumbent barely survived a primary challenge and defeated the more conservative Toomey by just two points, 51% to 49%. He then went on to win the general election in 2004 by a 53% to 42% margin.

Specter has been in office for 29 years and Republicans in Pennsylvania know him extremely well. Translation: It’s going to be almost impossible for him to make up a 21 point gap unless Toomey, who’s an experienced, vetted candidate gets blown away by a scandal or runs a frighteningly incompetent Alan Keyes/Kathleen Harris style campaign. Neither of those two options seems likely.

Additionally, if Specter runs, he will soak up millions of dollars that could better be spent elsewhere and he will be forced, almost by default since he will have trouble changing his image, to run an extremely negative campaign. Meanwhile, he will still have almost no chance to win.

Moreover, this isn’t a “Lieberman situation.” Specter cannot win a Democratic primary, nor does it seem likely he could win as an independent in a three-way race. Lieberman was only able to pull it off because the Republican in his race was, unlike Pat Toomey, a non-entity and so the Connecticut GOP voted for Joe almost en masse.

Long story short, it’s highly likely that it’s over for Specter although it might be a good idea for him to continue believing he has a shot for a while longer, to keep him from going off the rails to the left. Still, at some point, someone needs to break the news to him and gently dissuade him from a destructive primary he seems unlikely to win. Steele, McConnell, and Cornyn? I’m looking at you.

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