Trail Dust: Pa. Primary

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," April 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Next week's critical Republican primary in Pennsylvania is the topic of this week's trail dust.

Incumbent senator Arlen Specter (search) is in the fight of his political life against conservative upstart Pat Toomey (search). Specter is an unabashed centrist, voting against the Bush tax cut and questioning the PATRIOT Act (search). He counts among his supporters Bush foes Joe, George Soros and Democrat Harold Ickes.

So why is President Bush and the Republican establishment behind Specter in this fight?


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Well, the real reason is, presidents just normally back incumbent members of their party when they're running for reelection. There've been exceptions. Richard Nixon opposed Charlie Goodell in 1970, and he lost. He was a senator from New York. And Roosevelt tried to kick out some Southern Democrats back in, I think, 1938, and, and they all won.

But in any case, there's another reason, and that is, President Bush thinks he's going to win Pennsylvania this year. He's been steadily ahead in polls. And he thinks that Toomey might be a drag on the ticket whereas Specter wouldn't. I think he's wrong about that, but that's what the White House feels.

KONDRACKE: Well, what about your pal Rick Santorum, Specter's colleague? Now, he is ... he is a Toomey clone. Or Toomey's a clone of, of Rick Santorum. He's backing Specter. What's that all about?

BARNES: Well, here's the odd thing. Rick Santorum is, is arguing that Toomey can't win the general election. He's too conservative. Well, he's the living example of how a conservative winning twice now for the Senate in Pennsylvania. But the truth is, Santorum and Bush have hurt Toomey's chances. I still think he's going to win, though.

KONDRACKE: OK. The latest Keystone poll shows that Specter leads overall by 24 points, but among party activists, the folks most likely to show up at the polls, Specter's lead is only 6 points.

Now, the Specter is ... on my favorite issue ... medical research, is one of the great heroes of our time. However, the Toomey people that, who are been talking to people at Roll Call (search) are sounding awfully confident...


KONDRACKE: ... and this looks very, very close to ... too close to call, as a matter of fact.

BARNES: All right, all right. We'll know Tuesday night.

Time to check out this week's batch of new statewide polls in battleground states.

There's a new poll in Florida. President Bush has a slight 1-point lead there. Kerry was ahead by a point just last week. It's also tied in Iowa. Kerry is up by 1 point, Gore won that state by roughly 4,000 votes in 2000. In Arkansas, Bush leads by 2 points. He won that state by 6 points in 2000. In Pennsylvania, a new poll there shows Bush up by 6. He lost that state to Al Gore by 5 points in 200. And in West Virginia, Bush has a 5-point lead over Kerry. He won that state by 6 points in 2000.

KONDRACKE: So, taking all this into account, these new polls, here's what this week's electoral scoreboard looks like. Florida goes back to President Bush's column, and so the new electoral count is Bush 321 electoral votes, and Kerry 214.

OK, now...

BARNES: That sounds like a little more than Bush is really ahead, but...

KONDRACKE: Yes, right.

Well, anything can happen. Lots of time yet.

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