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Specter's challenger labels him a 'liberal'

Lehigh Valley congressman gets early start on 2004 race

Saturday, March 01, 2003

By Timothy McNulty and Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Lehigh Valley Congressman Pat Toomey began his statewide barnstorming tour challenging U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in next year's Republican primary by repeatedly hammering Specter as a liberal who is out of step with conservatives like himself.

Gearing up a message that voters will be hearing for more than a year before the 2004 primary, Toomey, R-Allentown, said yesterday that his "conservative Republican agenda" is more in line with President Bush and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, even though both Republicans are supporting Specter, a four-term incumbent.

"Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania we have one senator who doesn't agree with our agenda. He doesn't share our values," Toomey said at a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg.

Toomey begins the campaign far behind Specter in political experience, connections and fund raising.

In campaign funds, Specter had nearly $6 million as of last month, to Toomey's $700,000.

Specter, 73, was elected to the Senate in 1980 and if re-elected he would be the first Pennsylvanian to serve five terms. His White House support was shown Monday when Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff, helped him raise $100,000 at a Bethlehem event.

Specter mentioned Card's visit yesterday during a visit to the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center in Point Breeze, watching training exercises for emergency responders from 13 counties around Pittsburgh.

"President Bush has endorsed my candidacy. Andy Card said President Bush wants Arlen Specter re-elected to the U.S. Senate. When you talk about helping the president's agenda, the president thinks the man to do that is Arlen Specter.

"Rick Santorum said Arlen Specter should be re-elected. That's pretty strong Republican support."

Specter didn't specifically address the tag of "liberal," but pointed out numerous pieces of conservative legislation he has supported.

"I've been for a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget [and] for the line-item veto. I've supported a strong defense. I've been perhaps the strongest advocate in the Senate for the death penalty.

"I've led the way for funding on [promoting sexual] abstinence. I've provided funding for shelters for women to carry [babies] to term."

Toomey, 41, responded that it is White House custom to support incumbents in their own party. He said he is supported by other well-known conservatives, like Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes.

The latest difference between the two Republicans has been the topic of human cloning. Toomey opposes cloning human embryo stem cells and voted with a House majority Thursday to ban all forms of human cloning. The bill now goes to the Senate. Specter has supported stem-cell research to help cure debilitating diseases.

Specter said yesterday, "I think that all forms of human cloning should be banned."

But he added, "It has to be done carefully, so that we do not impede medical research."

He said a procedure called "nuclear transplantation" involving stem cells helps people suffering from Parkinson's disease and other serious ailments.

"More than 40 Nobel laureates have come forward asking that medical research continue" on this matter, he said. "There are 128 million Americans and families ... afflicted with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease and cancer, and that kind of research is very important."

Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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