If 'Earmark' Is a Dirty Word, Pennsylvanians Must Be Blushing
Despite a likely conservative challenge in next year's Republican primary, moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) won't be running from his record of bringing home the bacon.
A day after President Obama signed into law the $410 billion catchall spending bill for most federal agencies, Specter and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) issued five news releases noting every earmarked expenditure they had secured in the legislation.
The 16-page list tallies up $161 million in projects secured by the senators, most of it coming through Specter's seniority on the Appropriations Committee. "This funding will have a tremendous impact on local communities," Specter said in one release.
Specter, 79, has essentially doubled down on a political bet that all politics is local -- and the corollary theory that all earmarks are pork except when delivered to your own towns, in which case they are a nice T-bone steak.
Former congressman Patrick Toomey, who runs the anti-tax, anti-spending Club for Growth, issued several statements in the past 10 days indicating he wanted a GOP primary rematch with Specter, to whom he lost by two points in 2004. Toomey, who represented the Allentown region before losing to Specter, has criticized Specter and other moderate Republicans for casting the decisive votes in favor of Obama's $787 billion stimulus legislation.
"Voters are fed up with Washington's out-of-control spending. Politicians aren't representing the will of the people when they bring home the bacon. They are really representing the will of their special-interest cronies," Toomey wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year. "And it's not just conservative voters who feel that way. Voters across the board have finally found something they can agree on even if their elected officials can't: It's time to cut the fat, even if that means fewer projects for their own districts."
While Specter has tilted rightward on some issues -- he's now wavering on the Employee Free Choice Act, a union-friendly measure that makes organizing easier and that he backed in 2007 -- the Pennsylvania Republican thinks earmarks are a rightful function of government as long as they are properly vetted and transparent.
Specter, who has stockpiled $6 million for the race, expects a tough general-election contest should he defeat Toomey. State Rep. Joshua Shapiro (D), who represents the Philadelphia suburbs, was the most recent candidate to meet with Democratic leaders in Washington last week to discuss his potential candidacy. Joseph Torsella, a close friend of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and former head of Philadelphia's National Constitution Center, is already in the race.
All challengers take note: Not only does Specter bring home the bacon, but he's also less than four years away from becoming the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee. That would give him even more power to steer dollars to Pennsylvania. Expect to hear a lot about that on the campaign trail .
Come 2010, the 38 governor's races on state ballots will dominate the electoral landscape as both parties position for the coming nationwide redistricting that will shape Congress for the next decade.
Need to know which races to watch? The Fix aims to please. Here are the five states most likely to switch party control in 2010:
5. Tennessee (D-controlled): Although Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has been in office for the past eight years, there is a remarkably thin bench of Democratic prospects in the Volunteer State. The most likely nominee, according to informed insiders, is Mike McWherter, the son of popular former governor Ned Ray McWherter. A spirited primary is shaping up on the Republican side, with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, an heir to the Pilot oil fortune, considered the front-runner.
4. Oklahoma (D): Republicans, not thrilled with their current field in the race to replace Gov. Brad Henry (D), are trying to persuade former Rep. J.C. Watts to consider a candidacy. Watts, a well-known figure thanks to his time in Congress and as the quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners, would draw national attention as a rare African American Republican.
3. Kansas (D): Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's ascension to secretary of health and human services could have been a good thing for Democrats' chances of keeping the state in their control in 2010, as she will be replaced by Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson. But Parkinson has made clear that he will not run for a full term as governor in November 2010, a decision that leaves the party in something of a lurch. The Democrats' situation is made worse by GOP Sen. Sam Brownback's decision to come back to the Sunflower State to run for governor.
2. Rhode Island (R-controlled): The Democratic and Republican fields narrowed in the past month as Providence Mayor David Cicilline (D) and former Cranston mayor Steve Laffey (R) removed themselves from consideration. Laffey's decision leaves state Rep. Joe Trillo as the lone Republican in the field, while state Treasurer Frank Caprio, Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts are in the Democratic race.
1. Nevada (R): Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) is a dead man walking politically. Former state senator Joe Heck is getting into the Republican primary and may be joined by other ambitious pols who see opportunity in the scandal-plagued Gibbons's predicament. Democrats are headed for a primary between Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid (the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid) and state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.
6 DAYS: Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) hosts a ski retreat for major donors to the Republican Governors Association in Park City, Utah. Huntsman has made no secret of his national ambitions and should be watched closely.
30 DAYS: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) hosts a discussion on tax policy in Charleston. Like Huntsman, Sanford is moving quickly and clearly toward a 2012 presidential bid.