News that RNC Chairman Michael Steele might support primary opponents for the three GOP stimulus defectors has made the rounds in the blogosphere today--but was Steele serious when he made the suggestion yesterday, pressed by Neil Cavuto in a TV interview? According to an RNC official, there are no plans to break from traditional RNC policy--which is to stay out of primaries unless state parties choose to endorse--in the cases of Sens. Snowe (ME), Collins (ME), and Specter (PA).
The way Steele phrased it was: "My retribution is the retribution of the voters in their states. They're going to have to go through a primary in which they're going to have to explain to those Republican voters, in that primary, their vote." When pressed further by Cavuto, Steele said: "That is something I'll talk to the state parties about, and we'll follow their lead."
Specter is the only one of the three who is up for reelection in 2010. So, essentially, this discussion is about whether the RNC will try to replace Specter with another candidate. And, according to Steele, that's up to the Pennsylvania GOP, whose 364 committee members will vote on whether or not to endorse in Specter's race. Like the RNC, the state party has no plans to break from that policy.
So the real question is: will Pennsylvania's GOP committee members vote to endorse someone other than Specter?
The Pennsylvania GOP has taken a stand against the stimulus and says it is "disappointed" in Specter's vote. Specter was jeered by protesters for his stimulus vote at a press conference last week, and a Rasmussen poll this month found that 58 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans said they were less likely to vote for Specter because of the vote.
But a strong challenger has yet to emerge--in fact, no one has contacted the PA GOP with an intent to run against Specter--and oft-mentioned potential challenger Pat Toomey (president of the Club for Growth) has said he's seriously interested in the race for governor.
So the party may not have a stronger option than Specter and, thus, not much political leverage or will to oppose him, depending on whether that 58 percent of sour stimulus grapes fades or ferments as time goes by. Meaning Steele may not be swooping in to replace Specter after all.