The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, April 28, 2004  

Party Loyalty or Ideological Purity?

It turned out to be a very close race after all: Incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter defeated Rep. Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Republican senatorial primary yesterday by fewer than 17,000 votes, with the latest tally (99 percent of precincts reporting) putting Sen. Specter at 527,365 votes, 51 percent, and Toomey at 510,724, 49 percent.

Conventional wisdom, such as it is -- Who thought even six months ago that Sen. Specter would have to spend $14 million to eke out so small a victory? -- holds that the campaign of the Democratic Party’s candidate, Rep. Joe Hoeffel preferred a race against Rep. Toomey in November. Such wisdom contends that voters heading to the polls to support President George W. Bush in this critical “swing” state would be more likely to cast their ballots for the right-wing Sen. Specter than the far right-wing Rep. Toomey.

I’m not so sure.

Half a million Pennsylvania voters -- primary voters, the serious kind -- yesterday expressed their dislike (contempt?) for Sen. Specter. Assuming all of these voters return to the polls in November to support President Bush, what will they do when faced with Hoeffel v. Specter, two men who, among hard conservatives at least, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference? Which is more important to this voting bloc: party loyalty or ideological purity?

I’m betting a decent proportion of Rep. Toomey’s supporters will put ideological purity at the fore and won’t pull the lever (or push the button) for Sen. Specter, providing a modest boost to Rep. Hoeffel.

I hope so, anyway.

Local coverage:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Specter Edges Toomey in Tight Senate Battle,” by Carrie Budoff, Thomas Fitzgerald, and Patrick Kerkstra, and “Senator Weaker; Hoeffel Still Underdog,” analysis by Steve Goldstein.

From the Philadelphia Daily News: “Specter Narrowly Defeats Toomey,” by Chris Brennan, and “Specter, the Warrior, Survives,” by columnist John Baer.

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