Consistent conservative Toomey is accustomed to success Toomey stays true to his conservatives roots

Posted: April 09, 2004

In the late 1970s, when inflation was rampant and memories of Watergate and the Vietnam War were still raw, Pat Toomey spent part of each school day in a high school history classroom quietly seething.

It was the teacher who got under his skin. Too many lectures were about capitalism's failings, corruption in Washington, or how America was no better than the Soviet Union.

None of it squared with Toomey's patriotic take on U.S. history or his budding conservative ideology.

"I felt we were a great, great country, a great civilization," said Toomey, 42, who has represented the Lehigh Valley and parts of Montgomery County in the House of Representatives since 1999.

Despite a biography that seems unlikely for an archconservative, Toomey - a Harvard graduate, son of a union worker, and former Greenwich Village resident - hasn't changed his politics since high school.

Now, his unwavering low-tax and small-government convictions are helping him mount a respectable challenge in the Republican primary to four-term U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

Most experts consider Toomey's bid a long shot. And though recent polls show he has narrowed the gap, most still have him behind by double digits with less than three weeks to go before the April 27 election.

The candidate's friends and family are far too accustomed to seeing Toomey succeed to anticipate failure.

Growing up, he was the kid on the block with the lucrative monopoly on neighborhood lawn-cutting. In high school, he was the Eagle Scout who graduated near the top of his class.

After graduating cum laude from Harvard, he was a whiz-kid Wall Street investment banker who quickly won the respect of older colleagues.

"When Pat said he was going to run for Senate, I took it for granted that he was going to win," said Matthew Ross, a college friend who has stayed close to Toomey. "I'll be surprised if he doesn't."

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Toomey grew up in an East Providence, R.I., home where a photo of John F. Kennedy graced the kitchen.

His father, a lifelong Democrat, had a union job laying cable for an electric company. His mother raised six children and worked part-time as a secretary at the local parish.

Still, Toomey began talking about the virtues of small government at an early age, said Steve Toomey, his youngest brother.

"He was always able to articulate his arguments," said Steve Toomey, a lifelong Republican. "He had me sold."

Like all the children in the family, Pat Toomey worked part-time to help pay for clothing and supplement the scholarships he won to attend Harvard and a Catholic high school.

Good grades generally came easy to Toomey, his brother and college friends said. But when challenged - be it a tough class or his less-than-formidable basketball skills - they remember him tackling the problem relentlessly and methodically.

"He was never out of control. Not even as an 18-year-old. Always calm, thoughtful, even-tempered," said Marco Quazzo, a San Francisco lawyer and former college roommate.

While he studied government in college, Toomey wasn't considering a career in politics. It was business and finance that excited him.

So after graduating in 1984, he moved to Manhattan and joined small units at Chemical Bank and Morgan Grenfell that were doing cutting-edge work in derivatives and currency transfers.

Toomey stood out despite being the youngest member of the group, said Tom Drelles, a former coworker.

Drelles remembers that Toomey kept an "immaculate" apartment in the West Village, and "was very upset when someone would scratch the front door or something."

Not that Toomey was a stick-in-the-mud, Drelles said. While living in New York, Toomey learned how to fly small planes, and he relished the leather-coat-and-aviator-glasses image, Drelles said.

"He wanted to date the big, beautiful blondes - and he did for a while," Drelles said. "But that's so not him. He always lived his life pretty straight."

Toomey's job took him around the world. He traveled extensively in East and South Asia and spent a year in Hong Kong.

"I came away with a profound respect for the ability of free markets to create opportunity, to create wealth and prosperity. Not just for a few, but very broadly," Toomey said.

Then, in early 1992, Toomey made a radical change, trading his high-tempo career for the life of an Allentown restaurateur.

New York's urban ills helped him make the decision.

"There was the daily harassment of people that threatened to do something if you didn't let them squeegee your windshield," he said. "There was also serious crime. There were two murders committed on my street. And I was thinking: this isn't where I want to settle down and raise a family."

In some ways, the blue-collar Allentown area was reminiscent of East Providence. And his siblings had identified it as a good place to start a chain of sports-themed restaurants.

So Toomey signed on.

A few years later, he became reacquainted with Kris Duncan, a childhood friend of his sister's. They dated, and were married in 1997. They have two young children.

Like many conservatives, Toomey was inspired by the sweeping Republican victories in 1994 that led to Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. He raised money for several GOP candidates, and, a few years later, saw an opportunity for himself.

He was a political novice when he first ran for Congress. He had lived in the Lehigh Valley for just six years. He was facing a host of better-known opponents. And he was a staunch conservative in a Democratic-leaning district.

"We went into election night just hoping for a good showing," said Kris Toomey, referring to the 1998 primary. "When the results came out on the big-screen TVs, I couldn't find his name because I was looking at the second and third place finishers."

By now, Toomey's strengths as a candidate are clear. He can raise money. He is energetic and convincing on the stump. And he has a knack for winning over some voters who disagree with him on the issues.

"I think people prefer someone who says, 'Look, this is what I believe.' "

It also hasn't hurt that Toomey is willing to be tough on his opponents.

"He's shrewd. He's an intelligent individual," said Ed O'Brien, a Democrat and union official who lost to Toomey in the 2000 and 2002 elections. "To me, their campaign - they were masters of distortion."

O'Brien said he feels Toomey beat him by unfairly tarring him as liberal labor boss. Toomey is taking a similar approach with Specter now, repeatedly calling him a "liberal" who more often votes with Democrats than Republicans.

There is no question that Specter is to the left of Toomey - but so are most other Washington Republicans.

Conservative advocacy groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste, the American Conservative Union, and the National Right to Life Committee routinely rate him as one of the most conservative members.

But he is not one of the Washington warriors who delights in attacking the other party.

"Pat's not that kind of Republican," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) "He focuses on the ideas. He keeps the level of debate mature."

In Congress, Toomey is known as a leading advocate for the partial privatization of Social Security and as a fierce hawk on spending. He has pushed for medical-malpractice changes and believes in a flat-tax rate.

His legislative agenda has enjoyed some success in the Republican-dominated House, but his bills have not passed the moderate Senate.

If elected, Toomey would legislate as advertised, friends and family members say.

"With Pat, what you see is what you get," said Quazzo, the college roommate. "He's the same guy from one day to the next, one week to the next, one year to the next."

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 610-313-8111 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

Pat Toomey

Birthplace: East Providence, R.I.

Age: 42

Education: B.A., Harvard University, 1984

Profession: U.S. Representative

Career: Investment banker with Chemical Bank and Morgan Grenfell Inc. 1984-1991; restaurateur with Toomey Enterprises, 1991-1998.

Political experience: Allentown Government Study Commission 1994-1996; U.S. Representative, 15th District of Pennsylvania, 1999-present.

Family: Married with two children.

Quote: "I say we're spending too much money, . . . that's pretty conservative by Washington standards. By the standards of the people of Pennsylvania, that's common sense."

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