Sen. Arlen Specter isn't ready to issue any presidential endorsements yet, but in an interview as he shuttled between meetings with his own constituents last week, he may have signaled his intentions with some approving words for another pro-choice ex-prosecutor.
"I'm reserving my position,'' he said when asked if he had settled on a candidate in the GOP nomination contest.
"I don't think [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich is going to get in, but I want to see if he does. I want to see what [former Sen.] Fred Thompson has to say.''
Referring to his busy regimen of town meetings and fund-raising events in recent months, he said, "I have found among strong pro-life Republicans, a willingness to consider [former New York mayor] Rudy Giuliani because of the concern about Sen. Clinton . . . And I think that's a healthy thing, if we move away from litmus-test, one-issue politics.''
Referring to voting groups that have been at the core of his political base, he added, "I think he would have some natural appeal to the moderate, suburban Republicans or independents, and some appeal to Democrats, I don't want to go so far as to pick him as my choice but I think those factors, where pro-life Republicans are willing to consider him -- I'm not saying they're going to take him but they're going to consider him -- is a very big help in a primary contest. And I think his appeal to moderate Republicans and some Democrats is a key factor in his electability in general.''
Mr. Specter disputed the suggestion that Pennsylvania's GOP voters, who nearly deprived him of renomination in the 2004 primary, had become dominated by the party's more conservative wing.
"The Republican Party in Pennsylvania is still more the party of [the late Sen.] John Heinz than it is the party of the right wing,'' he said. "We've got a pretty long tradition of [former Gov.] Bill Scranton and [the late former Sen.] Hugh Scott, [former Gov. and Attorney Gen. Dick] Thornburgh and Heinz and [former Sen.] Dick Schweiker, myself and so on. I think our party has not pulled hard to the right. The difficulty of a primary is that so few people vote.''
Perhaps tellingly, however, with the exception of himself, none of the figures he cited as examples of the Republican mainstream has posted a victory since Mr. Heinz' last re-election in 1988. (Former Gov Tom Ridge, pro-choice on abortion rights, and like Mr. Specter, generally perceived as a moderate, won his second term as governor in 1998.)
Mr. Specter's 2004 re-election was an exception to a decade-long trend of gains for top-of-the-ticket Democrats in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia, once a Republican stronghold. Mr. Specter argued that the region could revert to that status.
"I think it means that Republican candidates have to be for things like stem cells. They have to be open on the choice issue. But I think the John Heinz brand of Republicanism, or mine, is OK in the suburbs yet."