I previously posted about Rick Santorum’s endorsement in 2004 of Arlen Specter against a challenge from Pat Toomey, in what was a precursor to the Tea Party v. Establishment fights to come.
One of the unintended consequences of Specter’s reelection was that in 2009 Specter switched parties, and his vote was critical to the passage of Obamacare.
I don’t consider the endorsement a deal breaker on Santorum. Santorm supported the establishment candidate he thought had the best general election prospects against a clearly more conservative challenger.
It is worth noting, however, that numerous Santorum supporters considered Newt’s endorsement of Dede Scozzafava in NY-23 over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman a deal breaker, and used the endorsement as an excuse to hurl pejoratives at Newt’s character. Newt endorsed Scozzafava for many of the same reasons Santorum endorsed Specter; until Hoffman’s late surge Scozzafava was viewed as the best general election candidate and was supported by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. (I supported Hoffman, by the way.)
I don’t excuse Newt’s endorsement of Scozzafava, it lacked vision. Santorum supporters should stop excusing Santorum’s endorsement of Specter for the same reason.
Santorum supporters have come up with a variety of excuses for the Specter endorsement, the most recent being that Santorum made the endorsement to save Republican control of the Senate, ultimately thereby ensuring that John Roberts and Samuel Alito successfully were confirmed by the Senate. This is typical:
So with Santorum’s help, Specter defeated Toomey in the primary by 1%, and was re-elected in the general election of 2004.
Thus, the GOP held its majority (actually gaining two seats) in the Senate. Specter got to remain Judiciary Committee chairman – after a very public pledge under pressure from nervous pro-life legislators – whereupon he proceeded to keep his promise, ushering through the confirmation of both Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
First, note that Republicans gained seats in 2004. Reelecting Specter made no difference to control of the Senate. Even if there were no other changes and the seat were lost to Democrats, there would have been a 50-50 split in the Senate with deciding votes cast by Vice President. So helping Specter achieved nothing.
Moreover, it was not at all clear that had Toomey been the nominee, Republicans would have lost Pennsylvania. The Democrat was Joe Hoeffel, a little known congressman who barely won his own district in the prior election:
Widely unknown outside Philadelphia and suburban Montgomery County, where he lives, Hoeffel, 52, narrowly won re-election to his House seat last year against a Republican political neophyte. He prevailed with 51 percent of the vote in a district closely divided by Republicans and Democrats.
I have been unable to find any public polling of a Toomey-Hoeffel match up prior to the Republican primary, although polling of a Specter-Hoeffel match up showed Specter winning comfortably, which is what happened.
So while there was a legitimate basis for saying Specter was a strong general election candidate, the warnings about Toomey’s general electability appear to have been a scare tactic similar to what we still see when an entrenched moderate/liberal Republican is challenged by a conservative. The polling linked above also showed Toomey surging in the final weeks, so there would have been good reason to expect Toomey to carry that momentum into a general election.
John Fund, writing just before the primary election at the Jewish World Review, noted that it was not at all clear that Hoeffel could beat either Specter or Toomey:
Rep. Toomey’s April 27 challenge to Sen. Specter, a 24-year-incumbent, is more controversial because Al Gore carried Pennsylvania in 2000. Republican backers of Mr. Specter, such as the conservative Sen. Rick Santorum, say that Mr. Toomey would find it difficult to replicate Mr. Specter’s support in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs. Toomey backers, on the other hand, argue that the liberal voting record of Rep. Joe Hoeffel, the likely Democratic candidate, gives their man a real shot at winning in the fall. “Toomey is no more conservative than Rick Santorum, and Hoeffel is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who just voted against a bill to protect children in the womb in murder cases like that of Laci Peterson,” says one Republican state legislator.
Tim Carney, writing at the time for National Review, noted that Toomey as nominee might actually help Republicans by exciting the Republican electorate:
Conservatives are fed many bad reasons to support Sen. Arlen Specter over Rep. Pat Toomey in next Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Republican primary. Among them are that a Specter nomination helps make sure that Republicans control the Senate and the White House next year. The reasoning behind these pragmatic justifications is flawed.
First, Specter on the ballot in November does not help Bush win the Keystone State and its 21 Electoral College votes. On the contrary, Specter hurts Bush by keeping the conservatives home….
The more sensible (but ultimately wrong-headed) argument for voting for Specter is that the GOP cannot afford to put another Senate seat at risk.
But Toomey will have, at worst, a 50-50 chance against Democrat Joe Hoeffel in November. Toomey, like Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), will be able to tap the Reagan Democrats who are worried about their jobs, but go to church, own guns, love their children and oppose homosexual marriage for the simple fact that it is wrong.
And the Senate is not really at risk in 2004. If Pennsylvania is in play, there will be ten truly competitive Senate races in the country, six of them currently occupied by Democrats. Democrats would need to win eight of those ten races, and ward off possible upsets in Washington and California to get a majority of the Senate.
In other words, a Toomey loss to Hoeffel in November would not mean a Republican minority in the Senate, it would mean only a smaller — but more conservative — GOP majority.
Specter will take over as chairman of the Judiciary Committee if he is reelected. If he loses, the chairman will be conservative Senator Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.).
If the choice is between 53 GOP senators with Chairman Arlen “Bork” Specter or 52 Republicans and Chairman Jon Kyl, the decision is an easy one for conservatives.
Santorum did a lot more than just film a commercial endorsing Specter. He traveled the state with Specter in the closing days:
Specter, the Philadelphian seeking a fifth term, hopscotched across the state with fellow Sen. Rick Santorum in an 11th-hour plea to voters before Tuesday’s primary. As recently as last month, few believed Toomey, a junior congressman from the Lehigh Valley, could retire the state’s senior senator. But a poll released on the primary’s eve showed Specter with a slight 6-point lead over Toomey, and below the crucial 50% threshold.
I understand why Santorum went along with the White House and the establishment, and maybe he actually believed that the seat would be lost.
But stop with the ridiculous theory that Santorum helping to elect Specter was a principled action. It was a political calculation not to stand up to the White House, which ultimately yielded no good as Republicans would have controlled the Senate regardless, and unintentionally yielded much bad in the form of the decisive turncoat vote for Obamacare.