May 4th, 2009
11:57 AM ET
14 years ago

Poll: Specter tops Republican opponent in 2010 matchup

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="A new poll handicaps Arlen Specter's general election chances in 2010 against two prominent Pennsylvania Republicans."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A new poll of Pennsylvania voters suggests that the newest Democrat in Congress, Sen. Arlen Specter, would easily beat his old rival, Republican Pat Toomey, in Specter's battle for re-election next year.

But the Quinnipiac University survey, released Monday, indicates that Specter would have a much tougher re-election fight on his hands if he faces
off in 2010 against former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

Last Tuesday Specter, who has represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for nearly 30 years as a Republican, announced he was switching his party affiliation from the GOP to the Democrats.

The longtime moderate Republican said he was "anxious" to stay in the Senate, and didn't want to face a Republican primary in order to keep his seat next year.

"I was unwilling to subject my 29-year record in the U.S. Senate to the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate," Specter said Tuesday. "But I am pleased to run in the primary on the Democratic ticket and am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers in the general election."

Fifty-three percent of Pennsylvania voters say they would back Specter if their state's Senate race were held today, with 33 percent supporting Toomey. The fiscally conservative former congressman narrowly lost to Specter in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary and decided to take on Specter a second time after Specter was one of only three Republicans in Congress to vote for President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.

But if Specter faces off against Ridge, a popular former Pennsylvania governor before joining the Bush Administration after the September 11th attacks as the first director and then secretary of Homeland Security, the poll indicates the race, if held today, would be extremely close. Forty-six percent of those questioned back Specter, with 43 percent supporting Ridge.

CNN's Dana Bash reports that Ridge has been formally approached by the Republican establishment in Pennsylvania to try and run in next year's election. A GOP strategist tells Bash that while it would be a struggle to encourage Ridge to run, the former governor did not close the door to the suggestion in his private conversation with top state Republicans.

"Gov. Tom Ridge is probably the only political figure in Pennsylvania who could give Sen. Arlen Specter a run for his money. But even if he gets a strong challenge from a Republican, Specter is still better off for having changed parties because he seemed headed to certain defeat had he stayed a Republican and faced Toomey in a primary," says Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In the poll, taken after Specter's switch of parties, 56 percent of respondents approve of the job the Senator is doing, 20 points higher than the 35 percent who disapprove.

Eight out of ten Democrats approve of Specter's duties as a senator, with Independents giving him a thumbs up by a 54 to 37 percent margin. Seven out of ten Republicans questioned disapprove of Specter's job as a senator.

Forty-nine percent say Specter deserves re-election, with 41 percent saying he doesn't deserve another term in office. Six in ten feel that the 79 year old Specter is not too old to serve another six year term in the Senate.

Before next year's general election, Specter could face primary opponents. Democrat Joe Torsella, who was already in the race, said last week that he would not step aside following the news that Specter was switching parties. Torsella is the former head of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak told CNN Sunday that he wasn't sure Sen. Arlen Specter is really part of the Democratic Party, the latest in a series of tough comments aimed at his potential Senate primary rival.

"I'm not sure he's a Democrat yet," he told John King on State of the Union.

President Obama said earlier in the week that Specter had his support, with one administration official saying it took the president about "seven seconds" to make that decision.

Those remarks don't faze Sestak.

"The president has said he respects Arlen's independence…" he said. "He'll respect mine if that is the case, I know that."

In an effort to give a boost to any potential Democratic primary challenger, Specter's former colleagues in the Senate GOP launched a new campaign last week designed to highlight the consistency of his Republican record and his ties to President Bush and other party leaders.

Republican Sen. John Ensign vowed Sunday that his party will make sure Specter, the newly-minted Democrat, loses his re-election bid in 2010.

"I know as Republicans that we have some great candidates that we're recruiting out there," Ensign said on Fox News Sunday. "And we want to make sure that Arlen Specter is no longer in the United States Senate after the next election. We're going to work very hard to make sure that happens."

Specter's move could trigger a seismic shift in Washington and could be a major boon for Obama. Specter's switch gives the Democrats 59 votes in the Senate. If Democrat Al Franken wins the Minnesota Senate race, which is tied up in that state's supreme court, Democrats would have a 60-seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted April 29-May 3, with 1,120 Pennsylvania voters questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Filed under: Arlen Specter • Pat Toomey • Pennsylvania • Poll • Popular Posts • Tom Ridge
soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. Rick

    Do we really want someone from either party that is potentially the age of your grandfather running the country? There should and must be age and term limits in our government.

    May 4, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. GOP Wants Specter to Win Primary

    There is a GOP grass roots initiative underway in Pennsylvania. Thousands of republicans are going to be switching parties in order to vote in the Democratic Party primary and insure that Arlen Specter wins the Democratic nomination. GOP insiders would much prefer Specter over any true Democrat and Senate insiders predict that once relected to what will be his last term, Specter will either openly revert back to the Republican party or simply continue his moderate Republican ways and vote more ofter with the GOP than against it. In the first such test since he announced his switch, Specter voted against his new party and with the GOP when voting against the trillion dollar Obama budget. This could be a win win for the GOP in Pennsylvania, who were in danger of losing the PA seat outright. With Specter, they still have an ally.

    May 4, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  3. Jerry Oswald

    If I were a resident and voted for Spector, I would be calling for a recall vote for him switching parties. Obviously he is not representing the people that voted for him. He was a afraid of loosing his position, then he must not be doing what he should. This is another case of weak kneed public officials. If you don't stand for something, you will fall for everything.

    May 4, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  4. Rick

    Make that GREAT-grandfather if your young enough

    May 4, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. sms29s

    If Ridge is the Republican candidate, Specter needs to emphasize to the Pennsylvania voters the advantages, committe wise, of having a Democrat as their senator. That could neutalize the problem of having two poplular candidates.

    May 4, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  6. Gifford Pinchot

    Specter should do to toomey worse than Casey did to snatorum. Santorum was the incumnbent and Casey a realtive unkown but Casey wiped the floor with the ultra conservative santorum because PA is not a white county in rural Alabama. 19% loss for the gop. In this case toomey is even more of a right wing crazy than santorum,and Specter is a 5 term mincumbant with strong support from everyone but the fringe right. SHould be 25% OR more. As for ridge, perhaps people here forget what a failure he was as governor, or what a national laughing stock while part of the buhs administration, but one can be certain that the Specter campaign will remind them,

    May 4, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  7. Jackie in Dallas


    Specter didn't turn his back on his core principles - his party turned THEIR back on him, when he didn't toe the party line. The "belonging" to a party shouldn't mean that you violate your own core principles in order to do so.

    What Specter has done is to want to continue to represent his constituents and vote for their best interests, which does not necessarily follow the Republican party line. And considering that more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians switched their party affliation to vote Democrat in the last two elections, and have consistently voted to re-elect him, should indicate that they, at least, feel like he is doing the job.

    I also question term limits. While I am for term limits on the President (although I think it should be 3 terms), there is a certain build up of knowledge and expertise that comes with being a long-time incumbent in office. There are good arguements on both sides of this issue. Perhaps we should look at the number of years constituting a term for both houses of Congress...

    May 4, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  8. Richard L

    The latest poll shows that the MAJORITY of people in Pennsylvania want Arlen Specter to represent them. THAT is what counts. It is the diminishing Republican party that is doing all the whining and trying to make it seem like the people don't want Specter. It's just them.

    May 4, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  9. OGLiberal

    "Can Ridge beat Toomey in the Primary?"

    I'd like to see that polled. My guess is probably not....and Ridge knows that and won't enter the race unless the GOP establishment promises to clear the way for him, ie – force Toomey to abandon his run. Toomey was hammering Specter in the polls and Ridge is pretty much as moderate as Specter. There's a reason he wasn't McCain's veep pick and it wasn't because Palin was so much more qualified or more acceptable to the larger number of voters in this country. The Republican base says that the GOP today is out of touch with Republican base voters. The problem for Republican base voters is that they are out of touch with the nation as a whole. And the GOP is a slave to its base, even if that base says the national party doesn't speak for them.

    May 4, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  10. Miss M

    I find polls like this a little hard to believe. Who in their right mind would vote for a candidate who is more concerned with keeping his job then with standing up for principals? This is a man who betrayed the voters who put him in office .... Does anyone even know what principals Specter believes in?

    May 4, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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