Pennsylvania Senate 2004

Republican Arlen Specter defends his seat against Joe Hoeffel


In a state so closely divided, Republican Arlen Specter’s bid for reelection against Democratic challenger Joe Hoeffel has important implications for Pennsylvania, the make-up of the Senate, and possibly the presidential election. Specter had earlier in the year encountered some rough going on the campaign trail with a very close call—by the standards of a 24-year incumbent backed by some very powerful political forces—against Republican primary challenger, Congressman Pat Toomey. Now less than a month away from the election, Specter maintains a suitable 20 point lead in the polls, 53 percent to 33 percent (Strategic Vision (R) poll; conducted 9/27-29/04).

As a moderate Republican, Specter is a dying breed in the GOP. The support that President Bush gave him—which ultimately put him over the top in the primary—likely stemmed more from Republican desires to hold the Senate seat–many agree that Toomey would have been too conservative to be safely elected–and to prevent a strong Democratic candidate from aiding John Kerry in the Pennsylvania presidential contest. Going against the GOP line—especially on the abortion issue—has left many unwavering conservatives, particularly pro-life Christian social conservatives, feeling alienated, which could cause some defection to the farther-right Constitution Party candidate Jim Clymer. As of yet, Clymer has not seen a significant migration of support by would-be Republican voters in the polls (his support remains at about 3 percent), but as seems to be the case in this election cycle, anything could ultimately occur.

The moderate platform that haunts Specter in his own party simultaneously helps him reach out to independents, undecided voters, and even some Democrats. His record of providing needed jobs to the state, bringing home federal dollars and his reversal of support for social security privatization, coupled with his incumbency, has made him an enticing candidate for many to support.

Recent polling numbers give incumbent candidate Arlen Specter an overwhelming lead in this race. Specter has a solid 51 percent of likely voters to Hoffel’s 33 percent (Quinnipiac University poll; conducted 10/9-11/04). The Hoeffel campaign, however, still reserves hope for a Democratic tide to wash over Pennsylvania in November. Hoeffel is running closely with the Kerry-Edwards platform—so close that some analysis characterizes him as a “third Kerry running mate”–and trying to paint Specter as representative of, and complicit in, the “failed policies of the Bush administration.” The Democrat’s desire is that the spirited battle waged by Toomey earlier in the year has sufficiently damaged Specter’s standing and approval to make possible a Joe Hoeffel Senate win assisted by Kerry taking the Keystone State.