People certainly are not shy about advertising their beliefs on their bumpers. Look around any parking lot and you will see loads of political bumper stickers. Chances are that none of them mention Sen. Arlen Specter or Rep. Joe Hoeffel.
In the midst of this year’s tight presidential race, many students are not even aware of the state’s U.S. Senate race between Specter, a 24-year republican incumbent and his democratic challenger, Hoeffel.
“It’s understandable that students don’t have a lot of information about this,” said Dr. Richard Brake, a political science professor at Temple. “If they’re anything like me, they’re getting a lot more of the presidential race and a lot less of the U.S. Senate race.
“That speaks to where we get our information from,” he added. “None of us like television ads, but we depend on them.”
Brake said the media may not be paying attention to the Pennsylvania Senate race because there is a sense that Specter is winning. The 74-year-old incumbent maintained a 20-point lead over Hoeffel in September, but a recent poll suggests the gap is tightening quickly.
Just two weeks before the election, a Survey USA poll showed Specter’s lead dwindled to just 48 percent over Hoeffel’s 41 percent.
Specter’s campaign manager, Chris Nicholas, shrugged off the poll and said he “doesn’t put a lot of stock into it.”
He does put a lot of stock into the seniority Specter accumulated in his 24 years as a senator. Specter is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee. He also chairs a subcommittee that writes the budget for the Department of Education.
“There’s not a college or university in Philadelphia that hasn’t received funding because of Arlen Specter,” Nicholas said. “He makes sure Pennsylvania gets back a fair share of tax money.”
The Hoeffel campaign wants college voters to look at the numbers.
Kristin Carvell, a Hoeffel spokeswoman, said the Bush-Cheney agenda is not working for Pennsylvanians and that Specter votes for Bush policies nine out of 10 times.
Carvell said the numbers speak for themselves. She said 315,000 are unemployed, largely because 160,000 manufacturing jobs were lost since Bush took office. The state is also home to 300,000 residents without health insurance.
The democrat’s campaign also stresses that things have not gotten any better for students. Carvell said tuition for Middle Atlantic colleges and universities rose nearly 40 percent in the last four years.
“College students are also worried about their future and that includes being able to find a job when they graduate,” Carvell said. “Arlen Specter has been in Washington for 24 years, and the problems facing Pennsylvania aren’t getting better-they’re getting worse.
“Pennsylvanians across the board are ready for a change,” she added.
Evan Hoffman is one of those voters. The senior dance major plans to vote for Sen. John Kerry and Hoeffel on Nov. 2.
“Specter’s with Bush,” Hoffman said. “He supported the war in Iraq, drilling in Alaska and tax cuts for the rich. A lot of people don’t want to vote out a longtime senator, but I think it’s time.”
Hoffman heard Hoeffel speak at Kerry rallies and likes how the Montgomery County Congressman addresses the situation in Iraq. Hoeffel, like Kerry, says the country was lied to about the war, while Specter supports Bush’s plan for Iraq.
Issues like the war, Social Security and healthcare are on American minds, and both candidates are playing off of the dynamics of the presidential race.
Brake said Specter and Hoeffel are both pro-choice candidates, although NARAL and other women’s organizations endorsed Hoeffel. Both candidates also oppose the privatization of Social Security and support stem cell research.
Even though Specter votes with Bush’s agenda most of the time, Nicholas maintains that Specter is a moderate and that Hoeffel is too far to the left and inexperienced.
Specter, a former prosecutor, was called upon in Congress to help write the Homeland Security Act right after Sept. 11.
“It goes back to the fact that he’s a senior member of Congress and he’s a serious legislator,” Nicholas said. “While Joe Hoeffel plays 20/20 hindsight and talks about blame, Sen. Specter wants to attack some of the problems. And he works just as hard now as he does when he was elected in 1980.”
Brake predicts it will be a close race, but if Specter wins, it will probably be his “last hoorah” and he’ll be able to vote his conscious.
“Still, this is going to be a big turnout race,” Brake added. “No one really knows what’s going to happen.”
Leah Zerbe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.