ELIZANDRO: Pa. Senate race: Talking to the candidates

John Elizandro

Although it feels as though we are only now emerging from the hoopla of the 2008 Presidential Election, elected officials and candidates across the country are already gearing up for the upcoming midterm contests in 2010. Of the many hotly contested and competitive races, none will be more closely watched than the reelection battle of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.

Specter, a 30 year Senate veteran, made national headlines this summer when he switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Specter faces a strong challenge in his Democratic primary race from Congressman Joe Sestak, a former Navy admiral who currently represents Pennsylvania’s 7th District. So far, Specter has been successful in fending off Sestak’s challenge, and most polls show Specter leading Sestak by a fairly comfortable margin.

Presuming Specter can eventually defeat Sestak in the primary, the general election matchup will pit the Senator against former Republican Representative Pat Toomey. But it will not be the first time Specter and Toomey face off. When Specter ran for re-election in 2004 as a Republican, Toomey narrowly lost to Specter in a hard-fought GOP primary.

Because many Villanova students are registered to vote here in Pennsylvania, both Toomey and Specter understand how important the youth vote will be in the 2010 elections. Toomey was kind enough to respond to a series of my questions for this column via e-mail, and Senator Specter graciously took a few minutes out of what sounded like a terribly busy day of voting on the Senate floor to speak with me.

If there is one thing both Toomey and Specter can agree on, it’s the monumental importance of this race and its implications for our country’s future.

“Our country stands at a crossroads right now,” Toomey said. “If we don’t change the way business is done in Washington, our economy will be stuck in a permanent recession.”

Sen. Specter agrees that this election is especially important to our generation. “What is happening now has a direct effect on your immediate future,” he said.

Both Specter and Toomey concur that our exploding national debt is a problem that should not be left for our generation to fix.

“If Washington doesn’t stop its current spending spree, future generations of Pennsylvanians will be stuck with the massive heap of debt our politicians are piling up right now,” Toomey said.

Specter emphasized the need to make structural changes in order to handle the deficit. He noted that he voted in favor of a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget and said that it was vital that we learned to “live within our means.”

The two agree on little else.

One critical issue especially important to college students is job creation. When discussing the state of the economy and the job market, Specter discussed some of the actions he’s already taken to create jobs, which include voting for the economic stimulus package that steers approximately 16 billion dollars to Pennsylvania and has the potential to create 143,000 jobs in this state as well.

Toomey has a different view on job creation.

“We won’t create jobs by allowing politicians in Washington to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on politically motivated projects,” Toomey said. “I have proposed using the remaining money from the stimulus to institute a payroll tax cut, putting additional money in every worker’s pocket and making it cheaper from employers to hire new workers.”

Another contested issue is the president’s recently announced increase of troop levels in Afghanistan. Though Rep. Toomey supports the increase in troops, Sen. Specter does not necessarily agree.

“I am opposed to escalation in Afghanistan unless it is indispensible to our war against al-Qaeda,” Specter said. “If al-Qaeda can reorganize in many other countries, why fight in Afghanistan where no one has ever had success?”

Specter’s 30 years of experience in the Senate also raises another important issue for Pennsylvania. “Senator Specter is part of the problem in Washington.” Toomey said.

But the Senator notes that losing all those years of experience would result in “a loss of a lot of seniority and a loss of continuity of work.” He mentioned a current proposal over a dredging project in the Delaware River of vital importance to the Philadelphia economy and added that “a new guy coming in won’t be as able to carry it forward.”

Though the outcome of the race in 2010 is far from certain, one thing is sure: the results of the Pennsylvania Senate contest will have enormous ramifications for not just Pennsylvania but the entire country.


John Elizandro is a sophomore business major from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].