"You can argue that Sen. Specter being on the left didn't matter much when Bill Clinton was president," said Toomey, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Lehigh County in 1998. He said the Republicans need a more conservative voice in the Senate to move the GOP's agenda forward.
As far as being electable, Toomey said he has been elected three times in a district that went to Clinton twice and to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election.
"This is not about being against Pat. It's about being for Arlen and Pennsylvania seniority," said U.S. Rep. Todd R. Platts, R-19th, who spoke on behalf of Specter, who was not at the dinner. Platts said the state stands to lose its senior senator and the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate if the incumbent is not the candidate in the November general election.
Platts said the Senate seat "will be in play" if Toomey is the nominee in November against the Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel of the 13th district.
That in turn could hurt President Bush's chances of winning the state and its 21 electoral votes in November, he said.
"I worked to lower taxes to help families keep their hard-earned dollars," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th, who told the audience he voted three times for tax cuts and wants to make permanent those cuts, some of which are scheduled to expire over a period of years.
Shuster also touted his support of Medicare and education reform and the partial-birth abortion ban. He called abortion, "that great moral battle that our nation faces today."
"Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state for young people going to other states" for better job opportunities, said challenger Michael DelGrosso, a businessman from Tipton, Pa. "That's a ranking we must not hold onto."
DelGrosso said he and Shuster probably would vote the same on many issues, but said he would do the better job "as a fiscal conservative who can help rein in spending." He said entitlement programs such as Social Security will run cash-flow deficits in the future if not reformed soon.
"This is not just about changing congressmen," but providing new leadership, DelGrosso said.
The three GOP candidates for the 89th District seat, Greene Township Supervisor Rob Kauffman, attorney Chris Sheffield of Shippensburg, Pa., and Chambersburg businessman Fred Stenger, also were on hand to pitch their candidacies. The winner will take on Democrat Doug Harbach in the battle to succeed Democratic state Rep. Jeff Coy, who retires at the end of the year after 11 terms.
Perry County Commissioner Mark K. Keller and Rye Township Supervisor Sharon Cole, also of Perry County, are the candidates for the 86th District seat held by Rep. Allan Egolf, who is retiring. The winner of that primary race likely will be elected in November because no Democrat is running.