George Will

Toomey says, ``We've got three parties in Congress--Republicans, Democrats and Appropriators." When Toomey first ran for Congress, he criticized his opponent, a state legislator, for opposing repeal of taxes on toothpaste and dental floss. All this is music to the ears of Steve Moore, president of the Club for Growth, which supports fiscally conservative Republicans against Republicans it considers markedly less so. Moore calls Toomey's challenge to Specter ``the most important Senate election in the nation in 2004."

In his announcement of his Senate campaign, Toomey showed that ``kinder" and ``gentler" are not his bywords. He used both the L-word (referring to Specter's ``liberal vision") and the K-word (he said Specter had ``joined Ted Kennedy" in sponsoring a bill to permit experimental human cloning). Toomey charged that in 1986 and 1987 Specter opposed President Reagan's positions ``more than any other Republican senator" and that ``Specter has opposed President Bush more than all but two Republican senators." The two, according to Toomey's staff, are Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

But Michael Barone, author of The Almanac of American Politics, says Specter has been ``one of the nation's most durable career politicians" since being elected district attorney in Democratic Philadelphia in 1965. And Specter's record is more mixed than Toomey's portrayal of it. Barone writes, ``More than anyone else, he defeated Robert Bork in 1987 and, more than anyone else but (then Sen.) John Danforth, he secured the confirmation of Clarence Thomas in 1991. In 1994 his devastatingly complex chart describing the Clinton health care plan played no small part in defeating it."

Toomey notes that Rendell, who got his first job after law school from Specter, and appeared in an ad for Specter in 1998, may not encourage a strong Democratic challenger. But such a plan could backfire if, as Toomey insists, the Democratic nominee will not be running against Specter. This internecine scrap, in a state Al Gore carried by four points, could affect next year's presidential drama.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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