Saving Arlen Specter

Robert Novak
|
Posted: Apr 10, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- President Bush will go to Pittsburgh April 19 on a rescue mission attempting to save four-term Sen. Arlen Specter, who faces an increasingly serious conservative challenge from Rep. Pat Toomey in the April 27 Pennsylvania Republican primary.

 As a matter of policy, Bush supports all incumbent Republican members of Congress. He plans to campaign at Specter's side in Pittsburgh. He will then go to Hershey without the senator, but is expected during his visit there to call for Specter's renomination.

 Polls have shown Toomey gaining ground on Specter, and Bush's trip may be necessary to stop that trend. Specter, a tough political infighter, disappointed his supporters in last Saturday's sole televised debate between the Republican Senate candidates. Specter repeatedly referred to notes, sometimes looked confused and once referred to "President Reagan" when he meant "President Bush."

KERRY'S FRIEND TED

 Prominent liberal Democrats privately express concern over widespread national exposure given Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as chief campaign surrogate for his Massachusetts Senate colleague, John Kerry.

 "We already have Teddy's voters," said one prominent liberal strategist who was concerned about TV repetition Monday and Tuesday of Kennedy's "Iraq is Vietnam" speech. They view him as a polarizing force who will not help Kerry with swing voters.

 Kennedy is eager to assault George W. Bush on many issues, primarily Iraq, and nobody in the Kerry camp will tell him to ease off. Rather, Kerry strategists contend Kennedy is useful in taking shots at Bush that would be inappropriate for the candidate himself.

GOV. SCHUMER?

 Sen. Charles Schumer's colleagues in the New York congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, are certain that he is considering running for governor of New York in 2006 as a stepping stone to the White House.

 According to these reports, Schumer has been discouraged by his wife, New York City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall. Whether or not that is true, it is universally agreed that Chuck and Iris comprise a political team and make decisions together.

 Schumer's congressional colleagues say he is frustrated by the presence of the state's junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and has explored moving to Albany after his expected easy re-election to the Senate this year. The problem in getting the Democratic nomination for governor is the candidacy by the popular State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

BLOCKING JUDGES

 While threatening to block all of President Bush's judicial nominations if he makes additional recess appointments to the federal courts, Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle has effectively prevented such nominations by limiting senatorial recesses.

 Daschle is stopping the Senate from recessing for the minimum 11 days necessary for the president to put somebody on the federal bench temporarily without Senate confirmation. However, the Democrats slipped in February by permitting the Senate to recess one day early. That enabled Bush to make his second recess selection: Alabama State Attorney General William Pryor to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

 The Senate is unlikely to have an 11-day recess before the summer break in August. Bush is loath to use the device then because it would come so close to the election and the judge could serve for little more than four months until his service ends in December.

GAY MARRIAGE POLITICS

 Republican leaders in Congress have concluded that there is not sufficient outcry against gay marriage to follow President Bush's advice to adopt a constitutional amendment, unless court decisions stir up support.

 The supreme courts in Massachusetts (April) and California (May or June) are expected to rule on gay marriage ceremonies that have been performed. A federal court in Nebraska is also expected to decide soon on that state's constitutional prohibition against homosexual marriage.

 If those decisions tend to approve of gay marriage, Congress will have a reason for acting on a constitutional amendment.