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Why Sestak might really pull it off

Tomorrow, a third poll will come out finding Joe Sestak is leading Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Dem primary. The poll, from Franklin & Marshall College, will mirror others showing Sestak ahead by around five points, the poll's director confirms to me.

Anything can happen between now and next Tuesday. But Sestak might really pull it off.

Terry Madonna, the director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, just gave me an interesting overview of the race, explaining in a nutshell why Sestak could prevail, though he cautioned that a Specter win is still a very real possibility.

Madonna's take: Dem primary voters haven't voted for Specter for decades. Why would they start now?

Madonna pointed out that for most of the race, a huge bloc of Dem primary voters, perhaps as high as 40%, have been undecided. They are only focusing on the race just now, with both campaigns airing out their messages on TV.

"If they hadn't agreed to vote for Specter after 29 years, why are they going to change in a month?" Madonna asks, in a reference to Specter's long career as a Republican in the Senate.

In the home stretch, Specter is hitting Sestak for missing votes as a Congressman, and over criticism of his military record, while arguing that he's delivered for the state and has the establishment on his side.

But Sestak is countering with a brutal attack on Specter's many years of support for Republican positions and politicians. He's using Specter's own claim that he switched parties to win reelection to paint him as an opportunist. That plays well amid anti-incumbent, anti-Washington fervor.

What does Specter have to do to pull this out? Madonna says a lot of it turns on whether Specter can boost turnout among African American voters in Philadelphia, who are likely to support him because the Dem establishment, including Mayor Michael Nutter, is behind him. "Philly does not have exemplary turnout," Madonna said.

Also, Specter has to hope that conservative Democrats in western Pennsylvania turn out in larger-than-expected numbers, Madonna added.

But tomorrow's poll -- coming after Rasmussen and Muhlenberg College polls both have Sestak ahead -- is likely to show undecideds continuing to shift towards Sestak. "Underneath the establishment's support lies a mass of voters who aren't tied to any of this," Madonna says. "They have swung overwhelmingly to Sestak."

Again, this is a really tight race, and Specter could still win. But it's hard to overstate how sharp a rebuke to the Dem establishment that wired Specter's party switch a Sestak victory would represent.

By Greg Sargent  |  May 11, 2010; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  2010 elections , Senate Dems , Senate Republicans  
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Next: GOP's `judicial experience' argument hits snag


If Sestak does win, it does lower the chances that the Dems will hold the Senate seat.

Posted by: Quick2822 | May 11, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how soon we'll be hearing from Republicans on how Democratic voters have no place for anyone who isn't a Democrat through and through.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | May 11, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Ugly typo:

Sestak is countering with a brutal attack on Sestak's many years of support for Republican positions and politicians.

Sestak attacks himself in order to?????

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Specter is the republican equivalent of Holy Joe, a shameless opportunist who cares only for his own future. Where was he when the senate was 50-50? How did he vote on the Iraq invasion and 2 rounds of tax cuts. How about medicare part d? He has 30 years of terrible votes to explain. The press hasn't presented or highlighted any of his former votes so that dem voters can actually judge Specter by his record. I will never forgive him for his pillorying of Anita Hill during the Thomas confirmation. BTW, if senators can vote for Thomas for the court, then Kagan should be confirmed in 10 minutes..

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

"But it's hard to overstate how sharp a rebuke to the Dem establishment that wired Specter's party switch a Sestak victory would represent."

Yes, and it will be a richly-deserved kick in the rump for the EstDems, who are miles behind the Democratic Party and the country-at-large.

Posted by: wbgonne | May 11, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

thanks srw, appreciate it.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 11, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I sent money (from Oregon) for Sestak's first congressional campaign... and then I found out how he ran his office and treated his staff. That said, I'd be quite pleased to see Specter moved out of the Old Senators' Home to the Retired Old Senators' Home.

And there's nothing to indicate that Sestak would be a weaker candidate against Toomey. At least Sestak doesn't offer a 250 year record to run against.

Posted by: commeca | May 11, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"If Sestak does win, it does lower the chances that the Dems will hold the Senate seat."

Not sure about that. Benen point to the following on his lunch break post today (yeah, I know it's Rassmussen):

* And speaking of Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary, Rasmussen shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading both Democratic candidates, but he fares much better against the incumbent. Toomey leads Specter in a general election match-up by 12, while leading Rep. Joe Sestak (R) by 2.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | May 11, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

If Sestak wins the Primary, Arlen running as an Independent, would be a dream come through for Sestak. Since Arlen has always been elected as a Republican, he would only take votes away from the Republican nominee.

Does Pa election laws allow someone who got defeated in a Primary, to turn around and get on the ballot as an Independent, or would he have to run as a write in candidate?

My biggest concern is: if Arlen loses the Democratic Primary, he will decide to punish Democrats, by voting with the Republicans for the remainder of his term. We know that he can turn his coat, when ever the mood strikes him. He just might even throw his support behind the Republican nominee. That is the biggest concern I have about the guy.

Posted by: Liam-still | May 11, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Specter's support of republicans is the kiss of death for them. And if Specter retaliates against senators, he is punishing the wrong part of the Democratic party. It is the grassroots rank and file dems that are (justifably) kicking Specter to the curb, not his buddies in the Senate, that are happy to keep him in the country club, despite decades of supporting republican priorities. Again, what were his votes on the important issues in the last 10 years: 2 rounds of tax cuts, medicare d, warrantless wiretaps, torture, Bush's hyper right wing judicial appointees, etc. The public should have a full reckoning of Specter's voting history to make an informed choice.

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Sestak has an appealing record and I think would have an EASIER time of beating Toomey in the General election.

I do feel bad for Specter though if he does lose but he would have lost any ways to Toomey in a Republican primary if he had stayed a Republican.

Posted by: maritza1 | May 11, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

The biggest hurdle Sestak has is simple: GOTV. Penn is known for being a "machine" state, and the entire Democratic machine is churning for Specter. They are seasoned at getting out the vote for their candidate - whoever it is. Sestak is going to have to build a real lead and get some solid momentum if he is to overcome the institutional advantages Specter is relying on.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | May 11, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

The party switching just reeks of opportunism. And if I were a Dem in PA, I'd have to wonder whether he would just switch back after getting elected...

I don't know that Sestak is superior to Specter or not, but if Specter loses the primary, Dems in the Senate are going to have a tougher road to hoe, because there's no incentive for Specter to side with Dems.

Posted by: CTVoter | May 11, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I have nothing against Specter, I'm much too young to remember the Anita Hill stuff, and he's been a decent Democrat since his party switch.

However, I don't trust him. I originally believed he had switched in good faith, but he's admitted this is about keeping his job. My concern is that after reelection that he would move back to the right (think Evan Bayh after his presidential and then VP hopes died), which would be an outrage.

Furthermore, he's really old. He's had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and may well die in office if he serves another term. Given that PA has a history of changing the Governor's mansion every 8 years between the parties, there may well be a GOPer in Harrisburg after November- who would appoint his own kind to a hypothetical vacant senate seat.

Backing Specter has too many 'known unknowns' for my liking, which is the main reason why I feel Sestak is a better choice (even though there isn't a lot of ideological air between them, even before Specter's conversion).

Posted by: holyhandgrenaid | May 11, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Liam-still, it's my understanding that PA has a sore loser law, so if Specter loses the Democratic primary he's out.

Posted by: Sayne | May 11, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

PA law does not allow Specter to run as an Indy if he loses the primary. If he loses, he's done.

I don't think Specter attacking Sestak's military record is doing him any favors in Dem cirlces; it reeks too much of service-avoiding Bush attacking someone who actually did his time in Vietnam.

Posted by: mattslavick | May 11, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

If Sestak does win, it does lower the chances that the Dems will hold the Senate seat.

Posted by: Quick2822

Actually, no. Sestak is currently outperforming Arlen in most General Election polls.

Arlen has NO incumbent advantage as a Democrat.

Posted by: howie14 | May 11, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Why the hell is Arlen even running for reelection? He turned eighty years of age, in February, and in recent years he has undergone two severe bouts of brain cancer.

That is not the profile of someone with sound judgment, who should continue to represent the citizens of a large state, in the US Senate.

Posted by: Liam-still | May 11, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Arlen Specter is not a Republican anything. Specter is a Democrat now ... he's your problem.

Either way, a Republican candidate is going to win the Senate seat in November. That is why Specter the RINO turned tail in the first place. He knew he was going to lose in the GOP primary, now Specter will lose the Dem primary instead.

Posted by: screwjob11 | May 11, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Specter started out his career as Democrat, and the Republicans welcomed him with open arms, and embraced him for over forty years, so it it is a little late for you to start whining about him being a RINO.

Posted by: Liam-still | May 11, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Quick2822 (aka Former-Senator Specter): Stop reposting your misinformation. Sestak does better in the Gen.

Posted by: michiganmaine | May 11, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

All, this is pretty rich, coming from Shelby and McCain:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 11, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Specter is an unctuous oily little weasel whose principles extend only as far as the next election. The only reason he has leaned toward the Dems in the last few months is that he realized to do otherwise was to commit political hara-kari. Specter’s drive to stay in office - no matter the cost - is driven by ego. As such, I don’t see him striking out at Dems in general if he loses the primary. If he ever wants to return to PA, he will comport himself with as much dignity as possible as a lame duck. He is more likely to burnish his reputation by behaving with some class than by being a petulant toddler.

If Sestak wins, I think he has a fine shot at beating Toomey. Remember, the general election is still months away and Sestak would have plenty of time to link Toomey with the GOP idiocy, which is legion. Toomey the wannabe Wall Street shill, Toomey the teabagger goober, Toomey the xenophobe, Twoomey the “drill baby drill” imbecile are all grist for the Sestak ad mill.

Toomey is going to be force to wear that millstone which is the rest of the GOP. If Sestak wins, he can point to Obama’s success and the perception that Obama is smart, has the respect of the world, and hasn’t been engaging in the embarrassing spectacles of imbecility of the GOP.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 11, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Arlen Specter is not a Republican anything. Specter is a Democrat now ... he's your problem.

Only until Sestak beats him in the primary! Specter has a lot of baggage being in the bats*it crazy caucus for 3 decades that I assume will come out in the next week. Couldn't happen to a more deserving soon to be ex senator.

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Digital Church Lady disallows the word “w*h*o*r*e.”

The Digital Church Lady of old was capricious and bewildering. The new DCL is a power mad tyrant who sends posts to digital purgatory for perfectly acceptable and useful words, words that can be used on TV, in church, or when talking to your grandma.

It is tiring to have to continuously try and figure out what will make it past the new and “improved” DCL. What’s up with that, Greg?

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 11, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

It is disgusting to see how politicians want so badly to cling to power. Specter needs to retire. He's been in the public arena since the early 60s. Time to go. Running first as a Democrat, then as a Republican, back to Democrat and now perhaps to Independent would only show his desperation. As I said; disgusting.

Posted by: saelij | May 11, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

ARLEN is another old horse we need to lead out to Pasture.. He and McCain can walk the Sunsets and host Saturday Night Live.

Just get these lifers out of the Congress and let's get some real people who will listen in.

Won't get fooled again in 2010!

Posted by: TDickson1 | May 11, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"I don't think Specter attacking Sestak's military record is doing him any favors in Dem cirlces; it reeks too much of service-avoiding Bush attacking someone who actually did his time in Vietnam."

Today John Kerry just endorsed Arlen Specter for Senate. I think we can all pretty much agree Democrats are spineless politicians. Doesn't that say it all?

Posted by: jamespaul71 | May 11, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Consider that a month ago, Sestak was down by double digits and a lot of pundits were really giving it to the campaign.

Sestak could have cut this commercial months ago. But his campaign was canny. They held their fire, waited until they 'saw the whites of their eyes'. They waited for Arlen to throw the first ball of mud, then released this devastating counterattack just two weeks before the primary.

Arlen will not recover from this; I respect the man and salute his outstanding service to the Senate and the great state of Pennsylvania, but everyone can feel it now. His time has passed. It's time to move on.

Posted by: howlless | May 11, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

John Kerry is a d*ck. He's my senator so I know that for sure. And it's why he isn't former-president Kerry, too.

Posted by: wbgonne | May 11, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Spector is simply untrustworthy on anything. His votes are based on personal opportunism and how he thinks the vote will play in the next election. I do not expect a strict party-line, but I would like to see some principles. The campaign that he is waging against Sestak is unprincipled and sleazy. But I guess that is to be expected from the author of the "magic bullet" theory, the Senator who belittled Anita Hill, the Senator who thought that Thomas was well qualified for the Supreme Court, the list goes on and on. The Senate, the nation and Pennsylvania will be well served by his retirement.

Posted by: wjk1 | May 11, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

It would be sweet seeing Arlen go down in his adopted party's primary; confirmation that neither major party wants him, needs him, respects him, or...oh, you get my point.

Posted by: ecrutle | May 11, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Who cares what Madonna has to say, she should just stick to entertainment.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 11, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Kerry endorses Specter.

The world's greatest deliberative body takes care of its own...

What did Kerry think of Specter's pillorying of Anita Hill, BTW.

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Though Arlen had done a decent impersonation of a Dem until recently, he flushed all that away with his singularly mean-spirited negative campaign ads. I bet you could trace Specter's free fall in the polls with the introduction of his nasty ads. And given his history of self-serving duplicity, there's little reason to believe he would veer hard right again, if reelected.

More importantly, if he wins the primary, he won't get reelected. Polls a week out show him getting throttled by Toomey, while Sestak is neck and neck with the former hedge-funder. Add to this the fact that Arlen's an ancient cancer survivor, and the primary pick becomes a no-brainer.

Now, Sestak needs to point out Specter's bait & switch on both EFCA (he was for it before he was against it, though he may be for it again - it's hard to keep track) and Elana Kagan (he voted against her as Solicitor Genl, but now says let bygones be bygones) to deliver the knock out punch.

Sestak may not be Kennedy or Sherrod Brown, but at least he's a real Democrat. And as a Dem in a blue state, I don't think I should have to choose between two republicans for Senator.

Posted by: ched | May 11, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Specter has never been a reliable vote for anybody. As a Republican, he campaigned as a conservative, made himself a 'gettable' vote for four years, and then suddenly 'found his roots' again for the last two years before running for re-election. Now that he's switched parties, lo and behold he's been a reliable Democratic vote... with an election looming. Even if Specter does win the primary and then comes back to win the general, he'd give Democrats just as much headache as he gave Republicans over the years... right up until he had to worry about re-election again.

Posted by: notreallyhere | May 11, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: yourmomscalling | May 11, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Author writes.........Why he could pull it off???????? Are you serious Greg or just stupid? What rock have you been under the last 70 years?

It is soooo painfully obvious that the "leaders" of this country care more about their own situations than the rest of us it is nothing short of naseating.

Their "situation" which I refer to includes:
1) rather than doing the peoples business, getting re-elected is priority from day one
2) lining their pockets with as much payola as possible
3) aligning themselves so when they do get out of office they make millions from those they spoke for (instead of the citizens as a whole).
4) spending more time slamming the other party than doing the work at hand just to stay in power

Posted by: Bcamp55 | May 11, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Hi. I think that Democrats should vote for U.S. Senator Arlen Specter on May 18.

Posted by: atifgulab | May 11, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter to me who wins the primary, as an Independent, I'll be voting for the Democrat regardless. Specter can't run as a third party in PA after losing the Democratic primary, from what I understand of our election laws. Then again, this is a state where people can run on the ballot in both parties - which always makes me wonder whether their politics would change based on which party flag they win under...

Posted by: revruthucc | May 11, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Spector has an uncanny ability to flip flop without conscience and conform himself to whatever morality or rationalization that gets him elected. And thus I ask, how can anyone trust what this opportunist, career politician says? Judging from the record, his next step will be to assassinate the character of his opponent.

He evidently has no loyalty to party nor concern for his constituents other than the rhetoric that fools them into voting for his occupation. The people of the great state of Pennsylvania should excise him and elect a responsible, honest representative for Senate.

Posted by: corneliusvansant | May 12, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

First, Arlen Specter cannot win in November. He already trails Toomey, and that is before all the rabid righties get constant doses of Pro-Life, Obamacare, Bailout Boy, from August through November. Whatever chance Sestak has of beating Toomey, it's better than zero, which is Arlen's situation.

Moreover, Arlen does not deserve Democratic votes, having voted against the middle class consistently for the last 30 years. Some important votes include:

Voted NO on reducing marriage penalty instead of cutting top tax rates. (May 2001)
Voted NO on increasing tax rate for people earning over $1 million. (Mar 2008)

Voted YES on raising the Death Tax exemption to $5M from $1M. (Feb 2008)

Voted YES on raising estate tax exemption to $5 million. (Mar 2007)

Voted YES on permanently repealing the `death tax`. (Jun 2006)

Voted YES on retaining reduced taxes on capital gains & dividends. (Feb 2006)
Voted YES on extending the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. (Nov 2005)
Voted YES on $350 billion in tax breaks over 11 years. (May 2003)

Voted NO on increasing tax deductions for college tuition. (May 2001)
Rated 0% by the CTJ, indicating opposition to progressive taxation. (Dec 2006)
voting to make bankruptcy harder for individuals (but not corporations)
- Voted YES on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains. (Apr 2009)
Voted YES on prohibiting foreign & UN aid that restricts US gun ownership. (Sep 2007)
Voted YES on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers. (Jul 2005)
Voted NO on raising the minimum wage to $7.25 rather than $6.25. (Mar 2005)

Posted by: mike_mcnally1 | May 14, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

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