ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Playing up their patriotism, Sen. Arlen Specter (search) and Rep. Pat Toomey (search) spent Sunday at National Guard posts, with Specter talking to gun owners and Toomey talking to military troops as their tight Republican race for the U.S. Senate approached voting day.
Conservative challenger Toomey took a break from 14 straight months of campaigning. He spoke only briefly Sunday at his hometown military armory to welcome home about 85 soldiers from a yearlong tour in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
But Toomey's political team was busy at work phoning college students, church congregations and other voters across the state to ask them to turn out for Tuesday's primary.
"We've got a major get-out-the-vote effort underway, and it's going to continue right through 8 o'clock Tuesday night" when polls close, Toomey told reporters. "I really think it's going to bring home the victory for us."
Specter, the four-term incumbent, was just as focused on getting his supporters to the polls, grasping for votes from moderates, conservatives and even Democrats who promised to get Republican friends to turn out. He started his morning talking to conservatives at a gun show at the National Guard armory in northeast Philadelphia before heading over to a town hall meeting with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search), a moderate Republican.
Specter said he's counting on support from a wide political spectrum Tuesday.
"My vote (supporters) may not be quite as intense as (Toomey's) vote, but I have a lot more of it," Specter said at the gun show, holding his wife, Joan, tightly around the waist. "The polls show it's a question of getting out the vote. So I urge all of you to come out to vote for me.
"The stakes are very high," he said.
The election caps one of the most closely watched Republican fights in the country this year, and one that could chance the political face of the slim Republican majority in the Senate. Recent polls indicate the race has tightened to as little as 5 percentage points between the candidates.
Toomey, claiming strong statewide support, said he hopes for a high voter turnout to give him a decisive win over Specter. But most political analysts agree that a low turnout will help the congressman, as his conservative supporters generally come out in greater numbers than moderates in Republican primaries.
More than 3.2 million voters are registered as Republicans in Pennsylvania. Between 10 percent and 25 percent of GOP voters turned out in Specter's 1998 and 1992 primaries.
"So much is going to depend on turnout, and turnout is hard to predict," said Villanova University political scientist Robert Maranto. "And that's what makes this an exciting race."
Noting the narrowing polls, Maranto said that "a lot of people, including Specter, were surprised that the last two weeks of the race seem to be tight."
Specter said he will heavily tout President Bush's endorsement in the final two days of the race. He embarks on a statewide swing Monday with Pennsylvania's leading conservative lawmaker, Sen. Rick Santorum, by his side in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Erie.
Toomey's campaign schedule nearly overlaps with Specter's. He will make a final pitch to voters in Erie, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Harrisburg and Scranton before returning to his home base in Allentown.