In an earlier blog comment, Jack Goodman asked me about a Arlen Specter-Tom Ridge matchup in the 2010. I suggested that Ridge, a former Governor in that state, was the type of moderate Republican who could defeat Specter, which was one reason why I didn’t think Specter’s Senate voting would move very far Left, ideologically, despite his new party label. I have no idea if Ridge is running, but Quinnipiac just released polling data (see here) confirming my hunch. In the first survey of Pennsylvania voters since Specter’s defection, it shows Specter and Ridge running neck-and-neck; Specter leads 46-43, with 8% undecided – a lead that is about the same as the poll’s 2.9% margin of error.
In contrast, the same poll shows Specter trouncing Republican congressman Pat Toomey, 52-33, with 10% undecided.
Against either Ridge or Toomey, Specter enjoys strong support among Democrats; the numbers are 84-5 against Toomey, and 78-14 over Ridge. Among Republicans, however, it is the reverse; here Specter loses 74-14 to Toomey and 82-10 to Ridge.
The biggest difference between having Toomey as an opponent as opposed to Ridge – and why Ridge is such a formidable opponent – comes among independents. They favor Ridge over Specter 47-37, with 11% undecided.
This is why you see so little change in Specter’s voting record to date despite the party switch; lacking a credible Democratic primary opponent, and with strong support among Democratic voters, he’s not very worried about opposition from the Left. (The favorable/unfavorable split among Democratic voters toward Specter is 77-8!) It’s the moderate voters he’s worried about, particularly if his opponent is Ridge. Among independents, Specter’s favorability ratio is 51-35 – but Ridge’s is 62-17 (18% undecided). And independents are evenly split, 44-44, regarding whether Specter deserves to be reelected in 2010. Hence my prediction that Specter would remain firmly entrenched as a swing vote in the Senate.
If I’m Ridge (and Republicans more generally), the following is the part of the Quinnipiac poll that I would find most encouraging: only 41% of those surveyed thought that a Democratically-controlled filibuster-proof Senate was a good thing – 49% said it was a bad thing (with 11% undecided). And by a margin of 52-44, Pennsylvanians agree with the following statement: “Some people say that losing a Republican in the Senate is dangerous because President Obama and the Democrats will now be able to steamroll over the Republicans. Do you agree or disagree?” That, in my view, is the issue on which Republicans can win back this Senate seat: the “Specter” of a Democratic supermajority in the U.S. Senate. Pennsylvanians – and Americans more generally – are uneasy when power is concentrated in a single party. And that’s why Specter’s switch might not be all that beneficial to Democrats – if his party label changes, but his voting patterns do not, then it provides Pennsylvanian voters concerned about a concentration of power with a pretext to elect a “true” Republican Senator in 2010 to limit Democratic power at the national level. From this perspective, Democrats would have been better off if Specter remained a Republican. The problem, of course, is that Specter likely would not have won as a Republican.
Note that this is one poll, and the election is more than a year away. Ridge has not, to my knowledge, even expressed any interest in running. More importantly, it did not ask voters about a Ridge-Toomey Republican matchup – it’s not immediately clear to me that Ridge can make it out of the Republican primary if he’s matched up with Toomey. Nonetheless, the data provides support for my contention that Specter is more worried about his right flank than his left. And it provides a glimmer of support for those predicting a Republican comeback in the 2010 midterms.