If the name Arlen Specter doesn’t ring a bell, some of his actions probably will.
If the name Joe Hoeffel doesn’t ring a bell…well, that’s been Hoeffel’s major problem in this campaign.
Only half of Pennsylvania residents can identify Hoeffel, the Democratic challenger in today’s U.S. Senate race, and even fewer polled say they will vote for him today.
Still, Hoeffel has been endorsed by many major women’s, human rights and environmental organizations, and hopes to attract the votes of everyone unhappy about the lack of jobs in Pa.
Both candidates are scrambling to persuade voters, and they made appearances outside of Lincoln Financial Stadium before the Eagles’ game Sunday.
Hoeffel and Specter will continue to visit Philadelphia and suburban spots until the polls close Tuesday, but history shows that undecided voters tend to break for the challenger, something that could make this race a lot closer than anticipated.
Hoeffel is popular in Montgomery County, a big part of his former congressional district, but he’s still warming up to the rest of Pennsylvania.
On the other hand, Specter enjoys national name recognition.
Specter gained national attention decades ago as the mastermind behind the Warren Commission’s controversial “Single Bullet Theory” surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. Specter became a household name once again in the 1990s as he rigidly grilled Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal during Senate hearings.
Specter gained even more fame when he cited Scottish law in the Clinton impeachment trial. To the dismay of the GOP, he publicly said, “Under Scottish law there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. I intend to vote ‘not proven.'”
Despite his controversial stances, independent voting record and recent move to the right, most political experts believe Specter will win next Tuesday and become the state’s first five-term senator. In fact, many media analysts say Specter’s toughest challenge was in the primary.
The 74-year-old, known as one of the few moderate Republicans left in the Senate, narrowly made it to the general election earlier in the year over the more conservative Rep. Pat Toomey from the Lehigh Valley.
But if recent general election polls hold true, Specter will be celebrating his 80th birthday as a U.S. Senator. Keystone and Survey USA Today polls show Specter with nine- and seven-point leads, respectively.
Hoeffel, a three-term representative from the Philadelphia suburbs, former county commissioner and state legislator, thinks Specter is vulnerable.
His campaign criticizes Specter’s shift to the right, a move that political experts say was done so Specter could survive the primary election. Hoeffel’s campaign stresses that Specter has voted for President George Bush’s agenda 89 percent of the time. Hoeffel tells supporters across the state that the agenda is not helping Pennsylvanians.
“Specter had to vote more conservatively in the last year or so to appeal to Republican voters in the primary,” said Dr. Richard Brake, a political science professor at Temple University. Brake also said if Specter is re-elected, he will most likely ignore political pressure and vote his conscience, because it’s unlikely that he’ll run again in 2008 at age 80.
Although Hoeffel is behind in the polls, he is closing in on the longtime senator. Specter’s 20-point September lead dwindled to single digits during the past few weeks.
That may be because undecided voters tend to shift towards the challenger close to the election. Also, Jim Clymer, a conservative Constitution Party candidate, is collecting some right-wing support.
But the company Hoeffel keeps could also be making a difference, according to Brake. Hoeffel appears with Sen. John Kerry at many Pennsylvania events, where he stresses that 160,000 manufacturing jobs were lost and over 350,000 residents have no health insurance. Hoeffel is counting on Kerry supporters in Pennsylvania to vote straight Democratic on Nov. 2. A recent Zogby poll shows Kerry with a 49 percent to 46 percent advantage over Bush, so Hoeffel’s strategy could pay off.
“There’s no question about it; this state is united and is ready to vote a straight ticket this election,” said Hoeffel spokesperson Kristin Carvell.
Both candidates are campaigning with the parties’ big guns and spending a lot of money in the process (CNN reported that a total of $26 million has been spent to win this seat), but in reality Hoeffel and Specter have more in common than they’d like to admit.
Both candidates voted for the authority to go to war in Iraq. They mutually support pro-choice women’s rights and stem cell research. Since the debates, they both oppose the privatization of Social Security. The big difference between the two involves how to deal with Iraq today. Hoeffel wants to target the “real threat” in Afghanistan, while Specter supports Bush’s post-war plans for Iraq.
To diversify his platform, Specter is advertising his clout and leadership in the Senate. He is on the Appropriations Committee and is set to chair the Judiciary Committee if he wins. Specter, a former prosecutor, also helped construct the Homeland Security Act just after Sept. 11. Specter’s campaign manager characterizes Hoeffel as “inexperienced and liberal.”
“The big difference is that Arlen Specter is a workhorse, and Joe Hoeffel is a show horse,” said Chris Nicholas, Specter’s campaign manager.
Hoeffel did not author many bills in the Republican-controlled Congress, but he was instrumental in developing “Iraq Watch,” a regular series of House debates regarding U.S. procedures used in Iraq. He also helped develop a $100 million open-space program as a Montgomery County Commissioner. His list of accomplishments is not as long as Specter’s, but Hoeffel has promised to do more for Pennsylvania families and create more jobs for graduates.
Hoeffel’s most recent commercial sums up the entire Senate race this year: Hoeffel is standing alongside a television that shows Specter and Bush walking together and shaking hands. Hoeffel’s point is simple, but clear. It all comes down to change-either people want it or they don’t. Specter’s ads cite his seniority and accomplishments, but don’t mention Hoeffel.
Leah Zerbe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.