Arlen Specter's 'Centrist' Presidential Campaign Series: THE RACE FOR PRESIDENT: THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES. Part One of a Series

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Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Republican presidential candidate, met last week with Monitor editors to discuss his campaign. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

I'M a fiscal-economic conservative and a social libertarian. I agree with the three principles that former Sen. Barry Goldwater articulated when he said we ought to get the government off our backs, out of our pocketbooks, and out of our bedrooms. I'm the only pro-choice candidate running for the Republican nomination. But more importantly ... I'm the only centrist in the field.

I'm unhappy with the way that things are being run at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue right now.... Congress needs to concentrate on the core values of smaller government, less spending, lower taxes, as opposed to a broad social agenda. There's nothing in the Contract With America about any of the divisive social issues. And I'm very concerned about the direction that the party is heading.... Under the dominance of {the Rev. Pat} Robertson, {Ralph} Reed, and {Patrick} Buchanan, we have a group which is fundamentally trying to change the way we live in America..... And they are fringe ... about a 4 percent factor: very loud, very vociferous.... And I think they pose a real threat to not only the soul of the party, but to the soul of the country.

Do you believe you're making progress in New Hampshire?

Well, I think we are making progress, but in this marathon run, it's hard to measure and hard to quantify yet, because I think most people have not yet begun to really look at the campaign. One of the recent CNN-Time polls had everybody in single digits except for Sen. {Bob} Dole, who was {at} 35 {percent}. I was at 5, which might not seem like a whole lot, but when you start from zero in a national race, that's some improvement.

Many in New Hampshire oppose Goals 2000 {national education standards}. Are you able to convince them that there's something valuable there?

New Hampshire has a lot of pro-Goals 2000 people. The {state} House of Representatives voted for it. It was a narrow {defeat} in the state senate. Forty-seven out of 50 states accepted it, including far-away Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island - states that have a lot in common.... And I've been to a lot of meetings up there where people are very concerned about losing out on the federal funding.... A first cousin to Goals 2000 is the Department of Education. I'm the only candidate running who wants to keep the Department of Education.... Why do I want to keep the Department of Education? Because when the Cabinet officers sit down ... I think somebody ought to be there speaking for education. I think education is a matter for local control.... But that doesn't preclude the leadership role of the Department of Education or Goals 2000.

What's your position on entitlements reform, particularly Medicare? Could you see some adjustment of the Social Security system?

Social Security is pretty much off the table ... at this point. And as to Medicare, I'm taking a very close look.... I think the first contract we have, ahead of the Contract With America, is the contract with the citizens who are the Medicare beneficiaries.... I'm not quite sure how it plays out.

Do you also see a contract with low-income Americans over Medicaid?

I think that's a national consensus and a congressional consensus. There's a lot of disagreement on how you get there, whether you can get there with a block grant, or whether you have to have standards.

Why does the Republican field of presidential candidates continue to raise skepticism?

That's very, very hard to say. The most attractive candidate consistently, year after year ... is the person who hasn't gotten into the race.... I think that some of the Republican candidates have suffered from trimming their sails to the political winds... …