A new campaign commercial from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, released Friday, felt like a trip through a time machine, taking me back a dozen years.
"In Washington, if you don't have some independence, some backbone, you might as well not even be here," Toomey, seeking a second term against Democrat Katie McGinty, says to the camera.
Toomey came within 1.64 percent of defeating then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican primary election. That was a 17,146-vote margin out of more than a million ballots cast in the race.
The day after that close call, Specter, who had secured support from then-President George W. Bush and then-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to seek votes from conservatives, rolled back to the political center so swiftly it appeared that he might have been wearing roller skates.
"They don't like my independence," Specter had said of Toomey's supporters before the primary. "That's a very unhealthy thing."
Specter won a fifth term in 2004's general election. He became a Democrat in 2010, lost the primary that year, and died in 2012.
I've been thinking about the last 12 years as the Nov. 8 general election approaches, running it past people who ponder these sorts of situations.
I've been asking: Is Toomey the new Specter?
Specter called Toomey "an extreme ideologue" in the 2004 race. Toomey painted Specter as a "left-of-center politician . . . outside the mainstream of the Republican Party."
It is hard to believe anybody in 2004 or 2010 or two years ago could have predicted what would become of the 2016 race for president. Toomey, just 10 months ago, said it was "very unlikely" Donald Trump would be his party's nominee.
So much for that.
This is why Toomey is being so very Specter-like in playing up his independence. He is caught in a vise. The squeeze is on.
Being critical of Trump's never-ending series of scandals won't play well with Trump's supporters in rural and exurban areas of Pennsylvania.
But Toomey's reluctance to firmly reject Trump's candidacy will also cost him in vote-rich suburbs surrounding Philadelphia.
It's a tough spot.
Jimmy Kimmel mocked Toomey's equivocation on his late-night ABC show last Thursday, airing a fake Toomey ad in which he ends up arguing with himself about whether he supports Trump.
I doubt Toomey had a good laugh at that network television show deriding his dilemma less than a month before the election.
Members of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, for obvious reasons, suddenly became big Jimmy Kimmel fans. Specter was sometimes knocked as a "weather-vane" politician, one who points in the direction most advantageous to his politics.
What can his replacement in the Senate do in a Trump-storm but swivel?
None of this means Toomey doesn't show independence in the Senate.
He sponsored bipartisan legislation in 2013 to expand background checks for gun purchases. That was long before the rise of Trump. And Toomey backed similar legislation in 1999 when he was a member of the U.S. House.
This also doesn't mean Toomey won't cast a vote clearly based on politics.
Toomey, when he launched his reelection campaign in September 2015, said he didn't think it was a good idea to shut down the government as fellow Republicans threatened to kill a stopgap budget unless it defunded Planned Parenthood.
Two weeks later, as the threat died down and the budget was headed for approval, Toomey cast a Senate vote against it.
I remember thinking:
Arlen Specter would understand that vote.