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Specter, opponents pressing Senate leaders over his bid to be Judiciary chairman

Specter, opponents pressing Senate leaders over his bid to be Judiciary chairman

Sen. Arlen Specter, who is seen by some gay rights groups as a moderate Republican, is working the phones and embarking on a media blitz in an attempt to cement his standing as future chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the face of demands from conservatives that he be passed over. Senate leaders are being pressured to deny Specter the chairmanship spot, which he's due because of his seniority. He is the only Republican abortion rights proponent on the Judiciary Committee, and he has also been continually supported by gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans. Without any change in the support of the leaders who backed his reelection last week, the Pennsylvania Republican is likely to take over as chairman of the committee that will consider President Bush's judicial nominees. Specter embarked on a public campaign Monday to help repair the damage from his comment last week that anti-abortion judges would be unlikely to be confirmed by the Senate. He told CNN, "I think I can help the president, and I think I can help the country." Conservatives are inundating those senators with calls and e-mails trying to sway those votes. One GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee who asked not be identified because of the sensitivity of the debate said his office received more than 1,000 phone calls Friday opposing Specter. The senator said that was the most phone calls on one subject since the gay marriage debate in July. The current chairman, Orrin Hatch of Utah, is stepping aside because of a self-imposed Republican rule limiting the length of time a senator can head a particular committee. No one in the Senate has openly opposed a Specter chairmanship, aides said, although several senators have said they wanted to talk to him before he gets the job. "Very rarely do they speak out against other members," said the Reverend Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who wants Specter voted down. Republican leaders "are putting their finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing," Mahoney added. "This drama still has to be played out."

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