Specter: Bush’s magic bullet

Columnist : Albert Paschall

Arlen Specter is about to become the first Pennsylvanian in history to serve a fifth term in the US Senate. Despite his narrow victory in the Republican primary, polls show he is about to bury his under-funded opponent, Southeastern Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Hoeffel. One of the most vilified politicians in American history, the fact that Specter defies definition on the left or the right, is probably the key to his success.

The 74 year-old Senator is no stranger to controversy. Forty years ago this month he stepped on the world stage with his famous or infamous theory of the single bullet in the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President Kennedy. At the time the young counsel to the commission put forward the idea that one bullet had struck President Kennedy passed through his body and then struck Texas Governor John Connolly.

Conspiracy monger and movie maker Oliver Stone in his famous or infamous film JFK, personally attacked Specter calling the notion the magic bullet theory. Specter’s theory remains in doubt but four decades after it was proffered no one, including Stone, has proven that it isn’t true. Specter again endeared himself to liberals with his direct questioning of sexual assault accuser Anita Hill during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings. Specter was accused of everything from gender bias to racism yet the former prosecutor pinned Hill down on vague accusations that were designed to get her some fleeting public prominence rather than shed any light on Thomas’ worth as a judge.

The far right has no time for Specter either. This past spring conservative Lehigh Valley Congressman Pat Toomey held his feet to the fire and caused at least a couple of blisters for the Senator. Toomey’s screeching commercials characterized Specter as somewhere to the left of Hilary Rodham-Clinton on abortion, gun control and taxes. Toomey came within a couple of points of sending Specter into retirement. Only the intervention of leading conservatives like Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Chairman Fred Anton and Senator Rick Santorum kept Joe Hoeffel from becoming the next Senator from Pennsylvania.

Specter’s love affair with organized labor hasn’t done much to win Republican hearts. Almost every union from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to the Teamsters has plunked big bucks into every one of his campaigns. This year is no exception. Labor PACS made it possible for Specter to just about escape Toomey’s wrath.

Conservatives will also hold their noses when they vote for Specter knowing that when he is re-elected someday he’s likely to chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The key committee that will likely vet at least two Supreme Court Judges in the next 4 years.

With affixed Republican noses and strong Democratic support Arlen Specter is going to win in a landslide on November 2nd. Meanwhile George W. Bush is in trouble in the Keystone state. Polls show he’s got to turn 3% of likely voters to beat John Kerry by one point in Pennsylvania. Specter’s coat tails are likely to deliver that one point to the President and with the state’s 21 electoral votes carry him into a second term. Arlen Specter undoubtedly deserves to savor the incredible irony of becoming the conservative icon’s magic bullet to victory.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

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