Rendell on Steele, Specter, and Screw-Ups

ABC News' Teddy Davis reports:

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) had lunch with reporters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and weighed in on embattled GOP chairman Michael Steele, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, and the screw-ups which he thinks are inevitable under the federal stimulus package.

"I don't think the forces who control the Republican Party really want a big tent," said Rendell. "Do they want a chairman who is pro-choice? Not on your life."

"The people who control the party - not the voters - but the people who control the party are not going to allow ideological flexibility," he continued. "I think Michael Steele's days are numbered."

The effort to stoke the Steele fire on the part of Rendell, who used to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), comes in the wake of a GQ magazine interview in which Steele, who personally opposes abortion rights and thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, described his mother's decision to carry him to term as "an individual choice".

Steele has followed up his GQ interview by issuing a statement through the RNC saying: "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be."

The attempted clarification, however, has not been successful in erasing the concerns of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who is eyeing a second run in 2012.

"Comments attributed to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are very troubling and despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grassroots politics," wrote Huckabee on his HuckPAC blog.

When Steele ran for party chair earlier this year, he faced resistance from some social conservatives who questioned his opposition to abortion rights because of work he did with the moderate Republican Leadership Council, a group which tries to make the GOP more appealing to supporters of abortion rights.

Looking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections, Rendell predicted that Specter would be successfully re-elected in Pennsylvania if he survives the GOP primary.

"I have no interest in being senator but I couldn't beat Arlen in a general," said Rendell. "We don't have anyone who can beat him in a general right now."

"If Specter wins the primary, it's a huge uphill fight" for the Democrats, he added.

Rendell's remarks will not sit well with fellow Democrats who have been promoting the Senate candidacy of Democrat Joe Torsella, the former head of the National Constitution Center.

In addition to sounding bullish on Specter's general election chances, Rendell said Specter's chances are looking better in the Republican primary because he might face a divided GOP opposition.

Specter's opponents may include both Pat Toomey, the head of the anti-tax Club for Growth, as well as Peg Lusik, a staunch abortion rights opponent.

Rendell thinks Lusik's presence in the race will prevent Toomey, whom he described as "a former bar owner," from being able to consolidate social conservatives. Prior to serving in Congress, Toomey was the founder, owner, and operator of four "original-concept restaurants" in Allentown and Lancaster, Pa.

On the topic of President Obama's recently enacted stimulus package, Rendell, who chairs the National Governors Association, urged reporters not to focus exclusively on examples of waste if the vast majority of the money is spent wisely. "There are going to be inevitable screw-ups," said Rendell. "But if in fact 96, 97, 98 percent of the money is spent wisely, try to refrain from doing too many" negative stories.

Rendell's advice to the assembled reporters prompted Dave Cook, a reporter with the Christian Science Monitor who hosted the event, to quip, "Ignore the falling bridge, folks."

Rendell followed up by saying that the government has an "obligation to spend wisely" while adding that the last time he checked "a 97 percent is still an 'A'."

ABC News' Tahman Bradley contributed to this report.

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