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. elliott

    this guy's a weenie....he belongs with the Dems

    May 4, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  2. Brett

    you will lost.. because voter only vote what they want.. now you change the party without OK from voter. You should wait until 2010 to change the party, as long approve from voter.

    May 4, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. AnnMM

    Brett.. You don't need the okay from anyone to choose which party you belong to. Most voters (the wise ones) vote for a person, not a party.

    May 4, 2009 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  4. Leslee

    Senator Spector does a great job for Pennsylvania. He bases his votes on what is best for the people of PA and he listens to the people he represents. I will be more than happy to vote for matter which political party is a member of. It should not be about Party lines but what is best for the people you represent.

    May 4, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. phoenix86

    And now we see the real reason Spector changed parties. I believe that he is actually a better fit with the democrats, who settle comfortably feeding off the public.

    May 4, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  6. Joanna

    Specter just won 2010 by switching to the correct side of History!! PA is solid BLUE!

    May 4, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  7. jrzshor

    [he] 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.

    and the "people" would actually vote for a guy who thinks like this?

    we deserve what we vote for.

    May 4, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  8. Steve

    The headline of this ticker makes me so mad! This is why people say there is a bias in the media toward democrats. The ticker headline makes it appear Specter is a heavy favorite for re-election, it neglects to point out he is an under dog if Tom Ridge runs against him (something that has a good possibility of happening).

    Headlines can make the news, You need to write them with more care CNN.

    May 4, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  9. Mississippi Mike

    Who cares? He's not really been a Republican for a while and he doesn't really march in step with Democrats either. Basically, if you don't care, you can vote for him with no consequences to the balance of power in Washington.

    May 4, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  10. Dave

    The problem here is that too many voters are too ignorant to realize that the only reason he switched parties is to win...He puts his political career first instead of his constituents – switch to the party that is favored right now...I hope he loses bad.

    May 4, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |

    Well Maybe he could win look at Lieberman after the Democrats were so kind and kicked him. I believe he had to go independent. I can't believe the Democrats were that narrow minded. they should allow a diversity in though in the party.

    May 4, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  12. johnny

    @ jrzshor May 4th, 2009 10:32 am ET

    [he] 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.

    and the "people" would actually vote for a guy who thinks like this?

    we deserve what we vote for.

    A lot of people will vote for him, as this poll shows.

    May 4, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. jenami

    ...and I can see why the GOP will continue to lose by the comments posted here. I am a PA voter, and will vote for whomever I think will do the best job, (R) or (D). I will not vote for an extreme from either party.

    May 4, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. Erik in Real Pennsylvania

    Former Gov. Ridge is a Bush crony. This will work against him in the general election.

    May 4, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  15. Kevin in Ohio

    I hope the people in Pennsylvania wake up and see through the political ruse here.

    May 4, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  16. Too True For You

    Conservative commentors and talking heads are racing each other to throw Specter under the bus. However, they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths by touting his pro-republican voting record on one hand, then citing his republican shortcomings (read: moderation) on the other.

    Its amazing how this republican elasticity does not translate into any other areas of their political efforts.

    May 4, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  17. Bob in Pa

    They didn't poll anyone in my neck of the woods.

    May 4, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  18. David

    AnnMM –

    I agree with you, but the voters voted for Obama – which hasn't proved effective yet...

    Regardless of party, you need to keep a balance in Government. You can't have Democrats OR Republicans control both the House & Senate. When that happens you see one party rule (like we have now) and that ruins this great nation. Just look at the massive spending going on now without any roadblocks.

    The People of PA should be ashamed of Spector as he has just slapped those who have backed him for so long...

    May 4, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  19. Melissa

    Good for him.

    May 4, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  20. Dems. Love Welfare

    May the real Arlen Specter please stand up....Flip Floper

    May 4, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  21. Lori

    Go Arlen! Go Arlen! Keep Pennsylvania BLUE, baby!

    May 4, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  22. anderson n carolina

    Spector forgot one thing when he switched parties.....Dems want health care reform and Spector will vote against it! Let's see how that goes over in the Democratic primary.

    May 4, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  23. William

    Get real, people. Specter changed parties because his own party has openly said that they are targeting him for replacement simply because he has supported some of the president's initiatives. In the new and not so improved GOP, thinking for yourself and bucking the party line is not tolerated. At least as a Democrat, he can maintain independence without his own party turning on him. If the Democrats can tolerate Joe Lieberman, they can certainly tolerate Arlen Specter. But, then, the Democrats have a long tradition of tolerence and embracing a plurality of ideas. One doesn't need to goose-step to be a Democrat, just patient.

    May 4, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. anita

    At least respect the SUBLIMINAL TRUTH Apecter spoke.

    Politicians consider themselves personally more important than the their positions. They work from the AUTHORITY of their positions not the RESPONSIBILTY of their positions.

    The measure, (worth), of a politician is not the work or accomplishments; it is the longevity of his/ her career.

    May 4, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  25. Doug, New Jersey

    If you have drove around the Philadelphia area then you know just how liberal Democrat it is over there. People like that who have a total disregard for American lives as they scream about pouring water on terrorists heads would never support the party of morals, values, decency, integrity, respect, and patriotism.

    Specter never had any of these key conservative values and it is more importaint for republicans to stay true to the best of America than to sell out to pure evil just to get votes in ultra lib areas.

    May 4, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
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