WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, one of Congress' staunchest moderates, is enlisting allies from the religious right as he faces a conservative challenger in his 2004 re-election campaign.
Specter had lunch last week with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist Baptist minister, in the Senate dining room, his spokesman said. Additionally, the Pennsylvania lawmaker has long relied on political help and support from Tom Bowman, who ran former Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson's 1998 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania.
Specter faces conservative Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in the April 2004 Republican primary.
Specter spokesman William Reynolds said he did not know what the senator talked about with Falwell, who initially blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals and civil liberties groups. Falwell later apologized for his remarks, which were initially broadcast on Robertson's TV program "The 700 Club," but denounced by Robertson as "severe and harsh in tone."
Specter, who is Jewish, supports abortion rights.
"There are a lot of things that they do agree on," Reynolds said of Specter and Falwell, including "religious freedom" and abstinence programs. "Of course, there's a major one that they don't, and that's abortion."
Noting that Specter will speak Tuesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Reynolds said the senator "continues to reach out to all sides. It's one of the benefits of being a moderate."
Democrats quickly took aim at Specter. So far, only one Democrat -- former Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner John Hanger -- is publicly weighing whether to enter the race.
"Jerry Falwell has been an equal opportunity offender and a polarizing figure and all but the most right wing of Republican voters in Pennsylvania should be asking Sen. Specter, about this meeting, 'what are you thinking?"' said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse. "'Toomey' might be the answer."