Pennsylvania Senate race: Specter's memorably odd course in politics
The Post has reporters in three states covering Tuesday's elections. Read today's feeds on the Arkansas Senate Democratic primary, the the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, and the Pennsylvania 12th District special election. See also Monday's feeds on: the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, the Pennsylvania 12th District special election, the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, and the Arkansas Senate Democratic primary.
Updated 5:30 p.m.
By Paul Kane
PHILADELPHIA -- Love him or hate him, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) has been one of the most colorful lawmakers of his generation, providing the scribes that have covered him endless copy with which to work.
Some of his classic moments pop up in every profile -- such as his cross-examination of Anita Hill during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas.
This campaign against Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), for the right to take on former representative Patrick Toomey (R), has also retraced his famous decision to flee the Republican Party after falling behind Toomey last year. It has also revisited his votes for President Obama's $787 billion stimulus proposal and health-care legislation.
But, win or lose Tuesday night, Specter's career will be remembered as much for non-legislative and non-political matters as it will be for his work under the Capitol dome.
Here are five of the most colorful moments from Specter's career:
* Single-bullet theory: As Specter has told crowds on the trail, he was first compelled to work in Washington after President Kennedy was assassinated in Novmember 1963, when he was serving as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. Specter went to work for the Warren Commission, which issued a report declaring that Kennedy was felled by a single "magic bullet" that also managed to strike Texas Gov. John Connally. Specter wrote that portion of the report, something that has always struck many Kennedy-assassination aficionados as too much.
Even Specter's close friend, Pittsburgh's longtime coroner Cyril H. Wecht, found it preposterous, calling the single-bullet theory "asinine." Specter's connection to it was given renewed focus by Oliver Stone's "JFK" movie, in which he was mentioned by name -- "an ambitious junior counselor" -- just as he was launching his very tough 1992 re-election battle.
* Ira Einhorn: After finishing his two terms as Philadelphia district attorney in the mid-1970s, Specter went into private law practice for a few years, including some criminal defense work. At the time he represented an infamous alleged murderer, Ira Einhorn, who was a renowned liberal activist who went by the nickname "Unicorn". When Einhorn was arrested for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Specter worked to knock his bail down from $100,000 to $40,000, assuring the judge that Einhorn was no more likely to flee than anyone else. After posting bail, Einhorn fled for Europe, where he lived on the lam until a 1997 arrest in France.
* Supreme Court lawyer: At his closing rally, Specter poked fun at current Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, debating who was a better prosecutor. Truth is, Specter rarely trusted others to argue a case he believed he could handle himself. In 1994, this meant filing suit to try to block the Pentagon's base-closing commission from shuttering the old Navy yard in South Philadelphia. Who did Specter hire to argue the case? Himself.
How did Specter do? The Supreme Court unanimously rejected his arguments.
* Scottish law: In February 1999, at the end of President Clinton's impeachment trial, 99 senators declared Clinton "guilty" or "not guilty". Not Specter. He cast a "not proven" vote, which the Senate officially recorded as a not-guilty vote. "My position in the matter is that the case has not been proved. I have gone back to Scottish law, where there are three verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proved. I am not prepared to say on this record that President Clinton is not guilty," Specter said at the time.
* Town hall madness: Last August, Americans rediscovered the congressional town hall meeting, converging on the gatherings to shout their opposition or support to President Obama's proposed health-care legislation. No town hall got as much attention as Specter's in rural Lebanon County, where he stood toe-to-toe with a shouting activist. "Now wait a minute," Specter told the protester, adding "wait a minute" 13 more times before finally giving up and allowing the man 2 minutes of nationally televised time on cable networks to vent his anger at the senator.
"One day God's going to stand before you and he's going to judge you," the man shouted at the end.
Specter has used this confrontation on the campaign stump to prove his Democratic bona fides, based on how strongly he defended Obama's plan. And he often jokes that the protester was wrong: "Senators aren't that powerful," he joked. "They can't talk to God on a daily basis."
2:14 p.m.: Arlen Specter in the rain
PHILADELPHIA -- It was cold and raining as Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) cast his vote this morning in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia on a gray day that has political insiders fearing lower than expected turnout in Tuesday's marquee Democratic primary race. Across the entire state, as well most of the Northeast, temperatures are an unseasonably cool 50 or so degrees, with the heaviest rains predicted for the late afternoon, when the largest chunk of voters would be expected to leave work and head for the polls. A worst-case scenario turnout of fewer than 1 million voters would render irrelevant almost every historical analogy in the Keystone State's Democratic politics to the Specter-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) contest, according to party strategists here. In the 2008 presidential primary pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, nearly 2.4 million voters turned out, a primary record. The closer historical parallel was the 2002 gubernatorial primary between Ed Rendell and Robert Casey Jr., in which more than 1.2 million voters turned out to give Rendell a victory with 57 percent of the vote. But those two primaries were big races that drew attention months ahead of time, while the Specter-Sestak race had been a rather sleepy affair until three weeks ago. Along with the poor weather across the state, this lack of excitement about the contest could leave only the most die-hard of voters dedicated enough to cast their ballots, and the experts are trying to divine whether this helps or hurts either candidate. One thing is for certain: Both candidates have entered unknown terrain.
Specter, a 30-year incumbent, has done this many times, having run in a half dozen races decided by 3 percentage points or less, but all previously as a Republican. Sestak, serving in the House just three years, his only elected office, has waged just one prior difficult campaign -- his 2006 race in which he unseated then-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.). In that, Sestak had the ultimate get-out-the-vote assistance: The FBI raided the homes and offices of Weldon's daughter and chief political operative just days before the election, in a corruption investigation that led to Weldon's campaign imploding.
"Does he have the infrastructure in place to execute a get-out-the-vote campaign?" asked Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant who is not aligned with either Specter or Sestak.
The race to take on former representative Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) -- who will claim the GOP nomination Tuesday night after helping drive Specter across the aisle when he announced his intention 15 months ago to challenge the then incumbent Republican -- will be decided in five key media markets: Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, which account for 44 percent of registered Democrats; Pittsburgh and its suburbs, which account for 24 percent of registered Democrats; Harrisburg and Scranton, which each account for about 11 percent; and the Johnstown-Altoona region, which has about 5 percent of Pennsylvania's Democrats.
Specter has an edge in Philadelphia, while Sestak has an edge in his native Delaware County just west of the city. The victor will need to get his voters to the polls despite the unspring-like conditions.
1:09 p.m. Two paths to victory
PHILADELPHIA -- The path to victory for Pennsylvania Democrats has generally come down to one of two options: the Clinton model versus the Rendell model. In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) thumped then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) by nearly 10 percentage points in the Keystone State's presidential primary. Six years prior, Ed Rendell routed Robert Casey Jr. in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary by 13 percentage points, sending him on the way to claiming the governor's mansion in Harrisburg for the last eight years. While the winning margins in the last two big Pennsylvania Democratic primaries were similar, the routes chosen by Clinton and Rendell could not have been more different. They offer a glimpse into what Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) are trying to accomplish in Tuesday's down-to-the-wire contest for the right to take on former representative Patrick Toomey (R) in November's closely watched Senate race. When choosing the Clinton or Rendell model, the relatively small orbit of Pennsylvania's Democratic politicos will chose which trail to follow based on the circumstances, the candidate and the chance of victory. In 2008, for example, Rendell served as Clinton's top adviser in Pennsylvania, steering her to a victory that was completely dissimilar from his own in 2002. Now, Rendell is Specter's top adviser, trying to replicate his own 2002 primary victory for his friend of 45 years. Meanwhile, Sestak has tapped Rendell's stable of advisers, the Campaign Group, to serve as his consulting team, as they try to bring home a Sestak win by abandoning their successful 2002 model and instead ape from the Clinton playbook. Here's breakdown of the two most common routes to victory in Pennsylvania:
The Rendell model
As a former Philadelphia mayor who oversaw a renaissance of the city, Rendell was beloved not just by city residents but also suburban voters who commuted into town for work. He completely dominated Casey across the southeast corner of the state, winning 79 percent of the vote in Philadelphia and its eight surrounding counties.
In Philadelphia, Rendell won 78 percent of the vote, for a 163,000-vote margin. Even more impressive were his totals in the four inner-suburban counties, each of which gave more than 80 percent of its vote to the former mayor. (In Montgomery County, just northwest of the city, Rendell won with more than 88 percent of the vote for an 8-to-1 margin, for example.) Casey swamped Rendell in the rest of the state, winning all but two counties outside of the southeast corner. But he couldn't overcome the deficit accrued in the Philadelphia region, which delivered roughly 42 percent of that day's Democratic votes.
By contrast, in 1986, when Rendell first ran for governor as Philadelphia's district attorney, he won 63 percent of the primary vote in the Philadelphia media market, but that region only accounted for 34 percent of the vote then. He went down in flames against Casey's father, Robert Sr., who went on to serve eight years as governor.
The Clinton model
The New York senator did not cede Philadelphia to Obama, despite the fact that the large African American vote in the city made it impossible for her to win a majority of the city's votes. Instead, Clinton held down Obama's margin in Philadelphia, outperforming Casey's tally there in 2002. Obama received just under 65 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, and then the two candidates battled to a near-draw in the inner-suburbs, each claiming victory in a pair of those counties. From there, Clinton swamped Obama in most of the rest of Pennsylvania, ending the evening with nearly 55 percent of the statewide Democratic vote.
Heading into Tuesday's vote, Specter's team believes it can follow something approximating Rendell's path to victory. African American turnout could be crucial, and state Rep. Anthony Williams, a prominent black official from West Philadelphia, is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Specter's team hopes to benefit from Williams' turnout operation to win extra black votes. At his final campaign rally, outside the Philadelphia Phillies' Citizens Bank Park on Monday, Specter rattled off a series of funding projects he had delivered over the years to the city's largely African American precincts. "I think I've earned the support there," he said.
Sestak's camp was bracing for a loss in Philadelphia that could be as high as two-to-one favoring Specter, something in the range of what Obama delivered in 2008. Anything in the range of Rendell's victory of 78 percent in Philadelphia could spell deep trouble for Sestak. "He has to roll up as big a number as he can in the city," one Sestak ally said of Specter Monday evening.
However, the challenger's camp sees the Clinton model as more akin to what his campaign looks like. They believe that Rendell -- along with U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the local party boss -- will deliver a win for Specter in the city, but that their candidate will put up a fight in the City of Brotherly Love. Sestak's second-to-last stop of the primary was at his Philadelphia campaign office in Center City at 9 p.m. Monday night.
In the suburbs, Sestak thinks he has a shot at performing better than Clinton, because his Delaware County-based district gives him appeal to those voters. He has campaigned tirelessly in the other, more rural media markets in Pennsylvania, hoping his Slovak roots will connect with the working-class ethnic Democrats who populate most of the rest of the state.
The X Factor: Pittsburgh
Given the low-turnout projections, the Clinton and Rendell models might be rendered obsolete by the time votes are finally counted. There's one other massive clutch of votes up for grabs -- Allegheny County, home to the Steel City.
Neither Sestak nor Specter has a natural edge in this southwestern corner of the state, which is almost a six-hour drive from Philadelphia's City Hall and has much more culturally in common with Cleveland than Philadelphia. Traditionally, it has been a tough battleground, and one in which neither candidate wins by the sort of margins common to Philadelphia. Clinton won Allegheny County with 54 percent of the vote, the same margin Casey won it with in 2002.
If either Sestak or Specter can break that logjam and win by big margins in the Pittsburgh region, that could be a whole new model for victory in the Democratic primaries of the Keystone State.
May 18, 2010; 1:09 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency , Capitol Briefing , Cast of Characters , Democratic Party , Election Day
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