Sen. Arlen Specter has done it again, and this one is for the record books.
Specter, a 74-year-old Republican, retained his U.S. Senate seat Tuesday and will become Pennsylvania’s first five-term senator.
Specter defeated Rep. Joe Hoeffel-a three-term Congressman from Montgomery County-by a comfortable nine-point margin, although polls predicted Specter would win by a much larger scope.
Although Sen. John Kerry won Pennsylvania, a battleground state, many voters split their tickets to show support for Specter. He received more votes than Kerry did, statewide, and declared victory before midnight.
“This victory tonight is important as a symbol for the moderate wing of the Republican Party,” Specter said at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City. “This is a party of inclusion … that reaches out to minorities, women, gays and labor.”
These words came as a sigh of relief to many moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Specter, who is known to vote across party lines, is one of the most senior figures in the Senate today and is expected to chair the Judiciary Committee, which may confirm up to four new U.S. Supreme Court justices in the next four years. Chief Justice John Rehnquist’s recent cancer diagnosis could mean Specter will play a major role in selecting the United States’ next chief justice.
Many moderate voters were skeptical when Specter announced he would appoint President Bush’s choices for the bench earlier this year.
However, most political analysts believe he put on a conservative mask in order to win the primary last spring. Yesterday, in an apparent move back to the center, Specter implied he would block any judge that Bush nominates if they oppose abortion rights.
“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,” Specter told the Associated Press, sending out a warning to Bush and illustrating his power in the Senate.
Apparently voters do not mind Specter’s back-and-forth rhetoric. He finished nine points ahead of Hoeffel, and gained backing a few weeks ago by receiving a labor endorsement from the AFL-CIO. Specter was one of few Republicans backed by the labor community.
Still, the race was much tighter than anticipated. Many polls predicted a 20-point win by Specter, and early in the night it appeared like Hoeffel had a tremendous lead over the incumbent. Staffers, volunteers and family members at Hoeffel’s party on election night and supporters across the state held their breath as the votes came in.
Electronic voting technology allowed Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to report early, and Hoeffel held a lead over Specter until nearly 75 percent of the votes were counted. When the rural, traditionally conservative results came in, Specter surged ahead and Hoeffel conceded shortly afterward.
“The people of Pennsylvania have made a decision and they have clearly chosen seniority over change,” Hoeffel said at a Plymouth Meeting union hall. Hoeffel mingled with teary-eyed supporters and would not confirm nor deny that he would run against Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006.
Hoeffel acknowledged he fought an “uphill battle” against Specter, who sits on the powerful appropriations committee. Specter also had the distinct fundraising and name recognition advantages that incumbents rely on during elections.
That came in handy for Specter, who spent nearly $18 million on retaining his seat. CNN estimated this was one of the most expensive Senate races in the entire country.
Leah Zerbe can be reached at email@example.com.