Senator Arlen Specter may be attempting to curry favor with Republican voters by (now) opposing the Employee Free Choice Act, but he will have a hard time convincing them to return him to office next year. A new Quinnipiac poll confirms that the increasingly fringe party is increasingly disenchanted with one of its last northeastern senators.
Apparently paying a political price for his support of President Barack Obama's Stimulus Plan, longtime Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter trails former Congressman Pat Toomey 41 - 27 percent in a Republican primary for the 2010 Senate race, with 28 percent undecided, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Two developments in recent history account for these numbers. Five years ago, Specter barely squeaked by Club for Growth leader Pat Toomey in the Republican primary before handily defeating Joe Hoeffel in the general election.
Then Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, registering hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters as Democrats. Not all of those voters were new voters; many were moderate Republicans in the suburban Philadelphia area who were the base of Arlen Specter's support.
Actually, they still are, and will be happy to vote for him in the general election. Quinnipiac notes the senator has favorable numbers among the general Pennsylvania voter population -- 45 favorable - 31 percent unfavorable. That's not stellar for an incumbent, but combined with a good warchest is certainly decent enough to win a general election.
Problem is, there's little change Specter makes it to a general election. Even the 28% undecided in his Republican primary matchup with Toomey are small comfort, given that primary voters have already made up their mind that they don't want Specter.
Overall Pennsylvania voters have a 45 - 31 percent favorable opinion of Sen. Specter, but he gets a 47 - 29 percent unfavorable score from Republicans. The Republican gets a 60 - 16 percent thumbs up from Democrats and a 41 - 35 percent positive from independent voters, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Even though Toomey lost the 2004 Republican primary to Specter by less than two points, 78 percent of all voters, including 73 percent of Republicans, don't know enough about him to form an opinion.
Voters approve 52 - 33 percent of the job Specter is doing, with a 71 - 16 percent positive score from Democrats and a 41 - 37 percent boost from independent voters, off-setting a 52 - 36 percent disapproval from Republicans. This is Specter's highest approval among Democrats and lowest approval among Republicans since Quinnipiac University began polling Pennsylvania in 2002.
Several factors, including the Iraq War and the Obama campaign's concerted effort to register moderate voters as Democrats, have stripped the state Republican party's voter rolls of its moderates. These voters, who may still want to return Senator Specter to office, now cannot vote in the closed Republican Party. (Some may re-register as Republicans, but it is doubtful enough would be willing to do so to offset the hundreds of thousands who switched in 2007 and 2008.)
Changing his vote on the Employee Free Choice Act will not matter. He can say he's an opponent of the unions, but the Club for Growth folks know Specter has had a friendly relationship with organized labor for decades. Even had Specter voted against ARRA, he would be in the same predicament. His base has left the Republican Party, and what remains of the Republican Party has left him.
Specter's EFCA stance does affect his political future in one respect. It indicates he will not switch to the Democratic Party or launch an independent bid for his seat. Otherwise, why would he reverse course? The only constituency he's courting with that move are the remaining Republicans in the state. It is hardly a move to win votes in a Democratic primary or general election.
Like Lincoln Chafee in 2006, Arlen Specter is buckled in tight with the party that has left him. Chafee managed to win his primary, but not the general. The structural changes in Pennsylvania, and the polling numbers that result from them, indicate Arlen Specter has little chance of surviving his primary challenge in 2010.