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Skunk at the Garden Party?

National Constitution Party Chairman Jim Clymer may not like the term spoiler, but if he qualifies for the ballot in the Pennsylvania Senate race he better get used to seeing that descriptor associated with his name.

In the Keystone State race pitting four-term Sen. Arlen Specter (R) against three-term Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D), there’s little question that Clymer could eventually become a factor in the outcome, even if that’s not what he’s setting out to do.

“I don’t consider myself a spoiler,” Clymer said in an interview Wednesday. “The way I would describe it is that Mr. Specter and Mr. Hoeffel have to live with the voting record that they’ve created. … I’m not going to take responsibility for voters rejecting them because of the positions they’ve taken over the years.”

His denials aside, Clymer’s potential as a spoiler in the race is clear. And conventional wisdom makes it just as evident that his candidacy would likely do more to damage Specter, who only narrowly escaped defeat in an ideologically driven Republican primary in April.

Specter defeated conservative Rep. Pat Toomey 51 percent to 49 percent, and the senior Appropriations Committee member’s close call has helped fuel Democratic hopes of taking him out in November.

Democratic Party strategists say that Clymer’s candidacy will reopen ideological rifts in the GOP still not healed after the bitter primary.

“It demonstrates that Arlen Specter has significant problems within his base,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

Already, some observers are noting Clymer will be the only anti-abortion-rights candidate in the Senate race if he makes it onto the ballot.

“I would like to capitalize on that fact,” Clymer said.

Abortion played a prominent role in the primary as Toomey sought to paint Specter, who favors abortion rights, as an out-of-touch liberal within his own party.

Clymer, who says he doesn’t just want to focus on social issues in his campaign, said some Toomey supporters have already reached out to him.

“The day after the election I was getting calls from Toomey supporters offering their support,” Clymer said. “I expect to utilize their support more when it comes to actually organizing the campaign.”

Still, several things have to happen before Clymer’s spoiler potential becomes a reality.

First, Clymer, who has been the Constitution Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor twice and for state attorney general once, must collect 26,000 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 1 in order to qualify for the November ballot.

He’s well on his way to doing that, estimating that he has about 6,000 or 7,000 signatures so far. He also notes that he has had little trouble getting on the ballot in the past.

“I intend to provide the voters of Pennsylvania with an alternative,” he said of his reason for running. “With something to vote for, rather than to just vote against, and I think there are a large flock of Pennsylvania voters who subscribe to the values and the principles and ideals that I believe in.”

Secondly, the Specter/Hoeffel race must eventually tighten to the point where the percentage drawn by a third party could mean the difference in the race.

While there are some early indications the matchup has that potential, Specter is favored to win re-election and the contest is not currently considered one of the handful likely to determine control of the chamber next year.

Strategists in both parties say they are keeping an eye on Clymer but see little reason to worry about his candidacy, or rejoice in it, at this point.

“We’re not ignoring him,” said Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “But Arlen Specter is well-positioned and the fact remains that it’s incumbent upon Joe Hoeffel to make this a viable race, which he hasn’t been able to do so far.”

Polling has shown Hoeffel, a three-term Congressman from the Philadelphia suburbs, is still relatively unknown to voters statewide.

He’ll need to spend heavily in order to introduce himself to voters this fall, and his fundraising ability has not been a success story in the race so far.

Although he has held recent fundraisers with high-profile Democrats such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he had raised $1.6 million through April 7 and had just $800,000 in the bank. Specter headed into the primary with $4.6 million and he has the ability to raise millions more.

“Joe Hoeffel’s going to run a strong campaign in his own right,” Woodhouse still insisted.

In 1992, the last time Specter faced a competitive challenge and, coincidently, the last time he faced re-election in a presidential election year, a Libertarian Party candidate received 5 percent of the vote.

That same year Specter defeated Democrat Lynn Yeakel 49 percent to 46 percent.

In 1994, the Constitution Party’s ticket featuring Clymer and Peg Luksik drew 13 percent of the statewide vote in the gubernatorial contest. Running again in 1998, the same ticket got 10 percent.

Clymer also garnered about 17,000 votes in 2003 when he ran for Lancaster County commissioner.

Last month, the state Constitution Party endorsed Clymer’s Senate bid and in a statement earlier this month the party called the endorsement “perhaps the most politically significant action taken by the convention.”

“If Clymer can draw conservatives from the Republican Party to his banner this fall, the politically vulnerable Specter … may find himself out of a job in 2005,” the statement said.

But Clymer insists that he’s in this race to win, not to rain on any one candidate’s parade.

“I want to give them somebody to vote for,” Clymer said. “I’m not really in it with the game of taking votes away from or causing the defeat of Specter or Hoeffel. For that matter, I want to cause the defeat of both of them.”

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