Long-shot Specter begins drive for GOP nomination

March 31, 1995|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- With a blend of combativeness and chutzpah, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter formally launched his long-shot candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination yesterday.

Mr. Specter, who prides himself on his reputation as a maverick, took the unusual step of attacking a fellow candidate of his own party, Patrick J. Buchanan, in his announcement speech.

He also delivered a warning to his party's dominant conservative wing, telling Republicans that they face defeat in the 1996 election if religious conservatives are allowed to dictate the choice of a nominee.

"When Pat Buchanan calls for a holy war in our society, I say he is categorically wrong," said Mr. Specter, who would be the first Jewish president. "What we need is tolerance and brotherhood and simple humanity."

He criticized the leaders of the Christian Coalition, the Rev. Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, terming them "wrong" on the separation of church and state and on their call for a Republican nominee who is anti-abortion.

"I say the Republican Party will not be intimidated or blackmailed by those kinds of threats," Mr. Specter said. "I and millions of other pro-choice Republicans will not be disenfranchised and made second-class citizens."

"Let me say it as plainly as I can: Neither this nation, nor this party, can afford a Republican candidate so captive to the demands of the intolerant right that we end up by re-electing a president of the incompetent left."

Mr. Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed" that Mr. Specter used "the opening and defining moment of his campaign to personally attack people of faith and their leaders." He predicted the strategy would "backfire at the ballot box."

One of four Republican senators running for the '96 nomination, Mr. Specter is the fifth candidate to formally enter the race. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Sen. Richard G. Lugar plan to do so next month, joining Sen. Phil Gramm, ex-Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, talk-show host Alan L. Keyes and Mr. Buchanan as announced candidates. California Gov. Pete Wilson expected to join the race later this spring.

Mr. Specter is gambling that he can attract support by establishing policy positions that set him apart from the field. But the things that make him different -- including his lack of a national reputation and his image as an urban moderate in a party dominated by suburbanites and religious conservatives -- are among the reasons he is regarded as a distinct long shot in the GOP race.

Alone among this year's Republican hopefuls, who have shunned any connection with Washington in their choice of announcement sites, Mr. Specter entered the race in the heart of the nation's capital on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

He was introduced by Roger Stone, a Washington lobbyist and his campaign chairman. Joining Mr. Specter on stage were his wife, Joan, a member of the Philadelphia City Council; other family members; and several Pennsylvania Republicans who are supporting his candidacy, including Sen. Rick Santorum.

Only about 200 people were on hand -- a mixture of supporters, anti-abortion protesters, along with a few joggers and curious tourists. But the event also drew a large contingent of national reporters, few of whom would have traveled out of town to cover the start of such an uphill candidacy.

Mr. Specter, who likes to cite polls showing that up to 70 percent of Americans support abortion rights, had hoped to run as the only abortion-rights supporter in the GOP field. But the expected entry of Mr. Wilson, who also favors abortion rights and is regarded as a more formidable contender because he hails from the nation's most politically powerful state, spoiled that plan.

The 65-year-old senator made clear yesterday that he would defer to no one on the abortion issue, pledging to "lead the fight to strip the strident anti-choice language from the Republican national platform."

He also listed a 10-point campaign plan, which includes a flat tax proposal -- a 20 percent across-the-board income tax for businesses and individuals, with deductions only for home mortgages and charitable deductions.

He has raised about $1 million and hopes to collect $5 million by the end of the year, enough to allow him to compete in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Specter is perhaps best-known for his aggressive questioning of Anita F. Hill during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, when the senator accused her of perjury and angered many women's groups. The controversy was thought to have jeopardized his re-election, but he won a third term the next year.

He began his public career as a staff member of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and was elected district attorney in Philadelphia in 1965 and 1969. After three straight election losses in the 1970s, he won election to the Senate in 1980.

He was born in Wichita, Kan., and grew up in Russell, Kan., which is also Mr. Dole's hometown. Mr. Specter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Yale Law School, was a first lieutenant in the Air Force and now chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

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