As Election Day nears, the senatorial race is heating up between Republican incumbent Arlen Specter and Democratic challenger Joe Hoeffel. Though Specter has held a lead in the polls since his campaign commenced, this gap has been narrowing of late, making this an unexpectedly competitive election. Despite being eclipsed by the fury of the Presidential campaigns, the Specter-Hoeffel race has closely divided Pennsylvanians, and has encouraged many young Philadelphians to get behind their candidates.
Specter is seeking an unprecedented fifth term representing Pennsylvania in Congress, brandishing over 30 years of experience within the state government. His challenger, Joe Hoeffel, a representative from Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district and Temple alumnus, alleges that Specter has grown complacent in Congress, pursuing “business as usual” politics.
As part of Temple’s “Campaigns in 2004” political science course, several of the university’s students were given the opportunity to intern for the candidates. This program allows these students to become more acquainted with political campaigning, but also gives them unique insight into a candidate’s beliefs.
The interns are more passionate about their candidates because of the personal contact they’ve had with them. They feel very strongly about the upcoming election. Tina Carosella, who interns for Specter, believes Specter will do the most for Philadelphia.
“He started his career in this city, and he is doing a lot for the community, after-school programs and things,” she said. “Temple is affiliated with a lot of those programs.”
Stuart E. Williams, an environmentalist interning for Joe Hoeffel, says that Hoeffel has strong ties to Philadelphia as well, and would do more to help Temple University’s students.
“Joe is for education, and Arlen’s record isn’t as strong as Joe’s,” Williams said. “Pell grants have been slowed down, and Arlen Specter backs that; Joe Hoeffel will not back that.”
While Specter does note many education plans he has instituted, his Web site lists no new plans to increase aid for college students. Williams believes Specter’s claim that Pell grants are already adequate is false.
“[Specter] talked in the debate about Pell Grants that are up to $4,000. When?” Williams said. “I’ve been in school the last four years, and I haven’t gotten $4,000.” Williams continued jokingly, “I want Arlen Specter to pay me that $16,000.”
Conversely, Hoeffel is promising to raise Pell grants, and make it easier for community college students to transfer to four-year institutions.
Dr. Robin Kolodny, an associate professor of political science at Temple and instructor for the “Campaigns in 2004” course, believes that many of the
Temple’s students feel more interest in Hoeffel’s campaign because of his close ties to the University.
“He represents the district that adjoins Temple’s environs,” Kolodny said. “Hoeffel is also a graduate of Temple Law School, so his ties to Temple are a lot deeper than say, Specter.”
Nonetheless, Carosella insists that Specter is the best choice for Philadelphia. She says that the support he has gained from many local labor unions means that Specter will also have a vested interest in the city’s jobs.
“He always focuses on Philadelphia in a big way,” she added.
She also mentioned the senator’s work in setting up AIDS research foundations, a major issue in the African-American Community.
Carosella also noted that if Specter is reelected he will be head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, though she did not elaborate on what specific plans he had for this position.
“He’s kind of, more thinking about the election right now,” she said.
Along with this committee seat, Tina also emphasized the “clout” that Specter’s seniority would bring in the Senate. Carosella said that with this experience the Senator will be “more able to represent [Pennsylvania’s] interests.” The senator’s experience is undeniable, and has been the focal point of his re-election campaign.
“A big reason why so many people are voting for him again is because he has so much experience in politics,” said Carosella, regarding the senator’s popularity.
“I don’t know if Hoeffel has the clout to get things done,” she added.
Dr. Kolodny agrees that Hoeffel suffers from being less experienced and less well known than Specter, but believes Hoeffel has “got to start somewhere.”
Although Hoeffel cannot trump the senator’s overwhelming amount of experience, his platform may be more appealing to left-leaning voters. Simply by virtue of their separate ideologies, Hoeffel is more environmentally friendly than the incumbent. Even Carosella admits this difference.
“Joe Hoeffel is more about the environment,” she said. “Specter is more about the people; his views on the environment aren’t as liberal as a democrats would be.”
Being an environmentalist, Mr. Williams feels very strongly about this issue, and Hoeffel’s stance regarding conservation. He believes Hoeffel will greatly improve Pennsylvania’s environment, and work to strengthen regulations nationwide.
“[Hoeffel] will stop all these regulatory waivers that George Bush has been using to destroy the last 35 years of work [of] the environmentalists,” Williams said.
Additionally, Specter has lost some popularity due to his vague political alignment. He has often been accused, even by his constituents, of being too liberal for the Republican Party. Carosella admits this is true, but sees this quality as strength.
“We call him a ‘moderate Republican’ because of the programs he helps out. A lot of Republicans don’t help out the community like Specter does,” she said. Mr. Williams believes this is a bid to win middle-of-the-road voters.
“I noticed in the primaries Arlen Specter flopped and flipped, and what he basically did was try to pull in the conservative vote to beat Toomey,” Williams said. “Then he goes into the Senate debate [against Hoeffel] and says he’s more to the center…He just says whatever he wants in order to win.”
However, Stuart also believes that Specter’s measured words can’t make up for his core Republican beliefs.
“I believe that its time for a change in office, not just in the Senate office, but the Presidential office. Arlen Specter’s 89 percent voting record with George Bush means he is no different than George Bush,” Mr. Williams said.
Stuart summed up these fundamental differences and political vagaries. “I don’t even know who Arlen Specter is, but I know who Joe Hoeffel is; and know that that’s a man who wants a change,” Stuart said. “As Joe says in his ads, ‘if you like the way the course is going with the Bush regime, than Arlen Specter is your man. But, if you want a change, and you want John Kerry in office, than Hoeffel is your man.'”
Specter supporters are steadfast in the face of such accusations. The claims have not faltered Carosella.
“I think he’s a great candidate; I think he’s been around long enough that putting him in office for another six years is going to help out our community in a big way,” Carosella said. “Especially with things that are going on right now. We’re going through a lot of turmoil in our country and abroad, and I think that if Specter gets reelected he’ll be in charge of enough committees and he’ll have enough experience behind him to help us get through these tough issues.”
The race between the two candidates will no doubt prove interesting, both here in Philadelphia and around the state. If Hoeffel continues to gain on Specter, the election could be quite close. Dr. Kolodny hopes that Temple students are registered to vote and, most importantly informed.
“It’s very difficult in a race where you have two relatively moderate candidates, and though Hoeffel is clearly more liberal than Specter, he is certainly not the most liberal challenger he’s ever had,” said Kolodny, “You have to inform yourself of the issues and make an intelligent choice.”
Ryan Briggs can be reached at email@example.com.