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Specter takes 5th term

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter survived the toughest election of his long Senate career Tuesday to secure a fifth term.

The victory means Specter, 74, a moderate Republican, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee starting in January. That post will give him broad authority to help reshape the U.S. Supreme Court as ailing justices look to retire.

Democratic Rep. Joe Hoeffel tested Specter's durability in a state with more than a half-million more Democrats than Republicans. Specter was already the first Pennsylvania senator to be elected to four terms.

With 75 percent of precincts reporting across the state, Specter was leading with 49 percent of the vote. Hoeffel had 46 percent, while conservative Constitution Party candidate Jim Clymer had 3 percent and Libertarian Betsy Summers 1 percent.

Specter lost in Allegheny County. With 96.9 percent of the votes tallied, he had 45.1 percent of the vote, compared to 48.1 percent for Hoeffel.

Specter barely survived the GOP primary in April against conservative U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, winning by less than 2 percentage points after President Bush persuaded disgruntled Republicans to stick with the incumbent.

The 54-year-old Hoeffel, a three-term congressman, suffered from limited statewide name recognition and comparatively weak money-raising. His campaign was snubbed by a handful of traditionally Democratic groups, including labor unions and black clergy.

Specter entertained a crowd of several hundred supporters gathered at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia around 9:30 p.m. with stories of his childhood in Kansas and moving to Philadelphia as a young man.

On a serious note, he said national Republicans need to "rebuild the center" of the party.

Specter barely survived a GOP primary in April against conservative U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, winning by less than 2 percentage points after President Bush persuaded disgruntled Republicans to stick with the incumbent. After the primary, Specter quickly sought to distance himself from the White House -- but not before Hoeffel seized on the alliance to try to undercut the Republican's support from moderates and Democrats who have backed him over the years.

But the 54-year-old Hoeffel, a three-term congressman and former country commissioner, suffered from limited statewide name recognition and comparatively weak fund raising. His campaign was snubbed by a handful of traditionally Democratic groups, including labor unions and black inner-city clergy, which endorsed Specter.

Hoeffel voted shortly after 10 a.m. at a 150-year-old community center in his suburban Abington hometown with his wife and two children, both of whom are in their 20s.

His wife, Francesca, couldn't immediately cast her ballot because of a paperwork problem. She had to wait for an elections judge to approve her to vote.

Specter spent at least $18 million to defend his seat. All told, the election cost an estimated $28 million among all the candidates, making it one of the most expensive Senate races in the country this year, as well as in state history.

Hoeffel saw an opening to defeat Specter after his bruising GOP primary, particularly if conservative Clymer could siphon off conservatives from the Republican vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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