Conservatives target Specter

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Conservative opponents of Sen. Arlen Specter’s bid to become Senate Judiciary Committee chairman are flooding Republican committee members with calls demanding he be passed over.

But the Pennsylvania Republican also has been making calls in an effort to cement his chairmanship, one official told the Associated Press.

Without any change in the support of the leaders who backed his re-election last week, Mr. Specter is likely to take over as chairman of the committee that will consider President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mr. Specter embarked on a media blitz yesterday to help repair the damage from his comment last week that it would be unlikely for the Senate to confirm pro-life judges. He told CNN, “I think I can help the president and I think I can help the country.”

Sen. Rick Santorum, a fellow Pennsylvania Republican and the Senate’s leader on pro-life issues, issued a general statement of support for Mr. Specter on Thursday.

“I look forward to working with Senator Specter to guarantee that every judicial nominee put forth by President Bush has an up or down vote,” said Mr. Santorum, who is chairman of the Republican Conference but not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

An aide said yesterday that Mr. Santorum would leave the decision to the Judiciary panel members, who will vote on who their chairman should be.

Conservatives are inundating those senators with calls and e-mails trying to sway those votes.

One Republican senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked not be identified, said his office had received more than 1,000 phone calls Friday opposing Mr. Specter.

The senator said that was the most phone calls on one subject since the debate over a constitutional amendment on homosexual “marriage” in July.

No one in the Senate has openly opposed Mr. Specter’s future chairmanship, aides said, although several senators have said they want to talk to him before he gets the job.

“Very rarely do they speak out against other members,” said the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who wants Mr. Specter voted down. Republican leaders “are putting their finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing. This drama still has to be played out.”

Mr. Mahoney said conservative groups plan to protest at the Capitol next week, and are working to turn votes and the Senate leadership against a chairmanship for Mr. Specter.

“This isn’t what we worked for,” he said. “It sends the exact wrong message to the core of the Republican Party that helped win this election. No matter what Senator Specter says, there is a complete lack of trust between him and us now, no matter how much he tries to do damage control.”

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