Today I got a chance to sit in on a brief interview session with former Pennsylvania Congressman and current Senatorial candidate Pat Toomey, who is running with token opposition in the GOP primary and expecting to face party-switching Senator Arlen Specter in the fall of 2010.
Toomey gained national notoriety in 2004 when he launched a controversial campaign against Specter in the Republican primary, drawing the ire of party insiders who didn't want to mess with a sure thing. Of course, Toomey has now been vindicated by Specter's failure to stand by the party and eventual defection to the Democrats earlier this year. Now Toomey has the enthusiastic backing of the party, as demonstrated by this conference call for bloggers sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Toomey has also demonstrated an impressive ability to raise money as demonstrated in his 2004 campaign. Since 2005 he has been President of the Club for Growth, which has a powerful fundraising network. With that and now the support of the RNC and NRSC, Toomey is likely to be able to match Specter in fundraising and outspend any other Democrat. Right now, Specter leads with a war chest of almost $11 million and Sestak lags far behind with only $1.6 million, but Toomey only entered the race at the beginning of the summer and should catch up and likely be able to match Specter’s spending once the race really gets going.
On the issues, Toomey has a record as being a strong fiscal conservative and while he is also conservative on social issues he doesn't have a reputation as a die-hard religious extremist. Some Libertarian Republicans are supporting Peg Luksik against him in the primary, but her positions don't seem significantly more libertarian than his, except perhaps in her isolationist position on foreign policy. Her positions on economic issues seem ill-informed and naive, while Toomey's record in that area is outstanding. While in the House, Toomey was rated 68% on social issues and 89% on fiscal issues by the Republican Liberty Caucus, actually ranking 9 points higher than Ron Paul on economic issues.
In a recent poll, Toomey was described as "clobbering" Specter with a 48% to 36% advantage and numbers widening as the nationwide popularity of Democrats declines in the wake of the health care debacle. Specter may have miscalculated with his party switch, as he was leading Toomey in early polling, had they faced each other in a Republican primary, as they did in 2004. The Rasmussen poll also shows Toomey beating Specter's Democrat primary challenger Joe Sestak by a wide magin.
On the call, Toomey was well-spoken and to the point, acknowledging that the problems Democrats are having with the health care issue and Specter’s poor judgment in switching parties have created an opportunity for him to take advantage of. Although a couple of the bloggers tried to draw him out on social issues, he stayed well clear of controversy and focused mostly on his campaign and issues of economic policy where he’s at his strongest and where the GOP as a whole is scoring a lot of points, though he did use one response to remind us that he remains a bit of a war hawk, offering some gratuitous advocacy for the missile defense system which Democrats are trying to cut.
Overall, Toomey was impressive and confident, and while he remains a mainstream Republican, his strong record on spending and his awareness of the concerns of the grassroots made him seem like a very appealing candidate and perhaps an indicator that the GOP is moving in the right direction in supporting candidates who are more dedicated to principle and more responsive to the people than self-promoting opportunists like Arlen Specter.
Audio of the entire interview is below. Note that I missed the first three minutes fixing a flat tire. Despite the fact that it was recorded on my cell phone while driving to the tire shop the quality is quite good. My question is the one about his position on future stimulus and bailout efforts.