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Sestak (Likely) In Against Specter

Rep. Joe Sestak is leaning toward a run for Senate against Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010. AP Photo/George Widman

Update, 7:15 p.m.: Sestak, sort of, confirmed that he is going to challenge Specter during an interview on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" moments ago. "My intentions are to get in this race pending a final family decision," said Sestak. He added that he looked at the Senate race as a "deployment" (Sestak is a lifelong military man) and needed final sign off from his family before making a final decision to run.

Original Post
Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak is planning to run against Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010 but those familiar with his thinking caution no announcement is imminent and that he could well change his mind on the race.

"I have heard from people close to him that he is in but will not announce for months because he does not need to announce yet for a fundraising bounce," said one senior Pennsylvania-based Democratic operative of Sestak.

The source added that Sestak will likely serve as a "stalking horse" to the incumbent through the fall -- watching to see if Specter embraces his new party sufficiently well -- and gauging whether he can continue to raise significant money for a primary against Specter.

Sestak, who had been mulling a challenge to Specter prior to the incumbent's party switch, had more than $3 million in the bank at the end of March -- a significant downpayment on what could be a double-digit million dollar primary against the always well-funded Specter.

A number of sources the Fix spoke to in an attempt to divine Sestak's intentions warned that the Congressman keeps extremely close counsel -- his sister and brother are his two closest advisers -- and, as a result, it's very difficult to know exactly what he is thinking at any time.

Sestak's office offered no comment on his intentions.

The news of Sestak's seeming decision to challenge Specter was first reported by Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler.

Assuming Sestak makes the race, he is going up against the titans of Democratic politics -- from President Barack Obama who has endorsed Specter and promised to campaign for him to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Specter was scheduled to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser with Obama tonight in Los Angeles.

Sestak takes his anti-establishment credentials as a point of pride -- repeatedly noting that he was not the candidate the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wanted to run against then Rep. Curt Weldon (R) in 2006 but he was elected and re-elected last November.

Polling suggests that Specter would start the primary as a decided favorite. A survey done for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in early May showed Specter leading Sestak 56 percent to 16 percent. A poll done for a labor-backed 527 group, however, showed significant softness in Specter's numbers when voters are informed of some of the votes he made as a Republican.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 27, 2009; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Senate  
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Does anyone recall the Ira Ikehorn case? It may give you a good look at the loyalties of Arlen Specter.

Posted by: nwsjnky1 | June 3, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Go Joe!!! Even though I don't live in PA, I will gladly donate to his Senate run as I did to his Congressional run. Many Ds around the country would do the same.

Sestak is a more formidable candidate against the R than Specter. Time for Specter, at 79, 80 when he would begin serving his next term, to retire with some grace.

Posted by: mcafla | May 29, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Specter is the anti-Santorum; he essentially has no discernible convictions beyond survival. Frankly, the only reason that Sestak wouldn't run is if he thought the risk of losing is too great. I believe that the winner of the Democratic primary would be a strong favorite to win the election. Given Specter's long (complicated) history with the GOP, his sudden conversion to the Democratic party to avoid a bruising GOP primary probably won't save him.

Posted by: Jay20 | May 28, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse


Another plausible scenario:

Specter decides not to run, throws his full support behind Sestak, and begins to write what could be an eye-popping political autobiography replete with revelations about some of modern American history's greatest mysteries (the letters "JFK" come to mind).

Specter also devotes himself to civil and human rights causes, such as the battle against creeping fascism as exemplified by the rise of a parallel system of vigilante (in)justice promoted and funded by secretive federal agencies and commands:

OR (if link is corrupted /disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 28, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Sestak should challenge the geezer to a flintlock pistol duel.. throw down a glove and slap the old coot across the face. This would be better than a primary challenge.. maybe give the traitor a good kick in the....

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 28, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"@Jake - You've got a totally different style than Zouk. His posts tend to be broad caricatures of "libs", liberally sprinkled with insults."

zook's posts are just good natured ribbing. He does it just to get a rise out of people. They actually make me laugh. Jaked is very mean spirited, on the other hand.

Posted by: DDAWD | May 28, 2009 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Joe Sestak is like Joe Sixpack. The campaign writes itself.

Posted by: DDAWD | May 28, 2009 1:23 AM | Report abuse

@mark - I'm in No. Virginia, so no chance to contribute to the PA race. On the plus side, I do get a ring side seat at the governor's race this year.

@Jake - You've got a totally different style than Zouk. His posts tend to be broad caricatures of "libs", liberally sprinkled with insults. Not really worth a response. Any back and forth just results in an insult war. Watching drindl vs zouk is like watching two elementary school kids talk about each others' mama.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 27, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

bb, are you in PA? Mnteng is, but we have not heard from him. I remember that mnteng is an indie who likes Sestak as a strong for vets and the military blue dog D, so I probably would like him, too, most likely.

If Sestak loses to Specter my guess is that it would not hurt his prospects next time.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | May 27, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

I thought that "Zouk" and I were the same person?

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Had to post so Jake couldn't completely own the thread. Kudos for crediting your sources. Perhaps you could convince Zouk to start doing the same?

Ah, well. On topic. I'm happy for two reasons. First, it'll be an interesting race, both in the spring and the fall. Good purely from the popcorn side of things. Second, Specter deserves a challenge from a true Democrat. It's a shame Specter doesn't have a chance to run as an Independent who chooses to caucus with the Democrats (or not at all). Given that Specter will be in his mid-80s by the end of the next term, it's time for a change could be a powerful argument.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 27, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse


From Candy Crowley
CNN Senior Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak has informed supporters he plans to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the upcoming Democratic primary, a spokesman for the congressman told CNN.

Jonathon Dworkin, Sestak’s communications director, confirmed the authenticity of a handwritten letter from Sestak — first posted on the Web site Talking Points Memo — in which he says, “I intend to run for the U.S. Senate.”

Dworkin also confirms quotes from Sestak’s sister to the Web site saying, “He intends to get in the race … . In the not too distant future, he will sit down with his wife and daughter to make the final decision.”

Sestak’s decision to challenge Specter, who recently switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, puts the congressman at odds with Democratic congressional leaders and President Barack Obama. The president and the congressional leaders have endorsed Specter for re-election in 2010.

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone else think of "Sleestak" from LAND OF THE LOST?

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

The term stalking horse originally derived from the practice of hunting, particularly of wildfowl. Hunters noticed that many birds would flee immediately on the approach of humans, but would tolerate the close presence of animals such as horses and cattle.

Hunters would therefore slowly approach their quarry by walking alongside their horses, keeping their upper bodies out of sight until the flock was within firing range. Animals trained for this purpose were called stalking horses. Sometimes mobile hides are used for a similar purpose.

The expression is generally used in politics and business. In politics, the circumstances are an attempt to bring down a powerful leader, usually by members of their own party. In business, the circumstances are an attempt at testing the market for a potential (hostile) takeover of a business. In each case, there is the clear understanding that the anonymous party, whether a company or an individual, has a valuable reputation - a brand - that could be damaged by the failure. The stalking horse is an exercise in assessing accurately the degree of risk, so that a full-blooded challenge is only mounted by the main party when there is a real likelihood of success.

The loser in the exercise appears to be the stalking horse. If the idea is viable and/or popular, the stalking horse will lose out because the anonymous figure will discard them and take over the concept themselves. If the concept is unpopular, the stalking horse will be 'shot down in flames' and will get metaphorically burned. The understanding is that the anonymous party is a major player - a Big Beast - probably only a little weaker than the Target themselves, and the stalking horse very much a minor figure - a minnow- who has little or no reputation to lose. The anonymous figure is not sufficiently powerful, or does not have sufficient confidence in their power, to risk a direct attack first off, but the stalking horse is a form of distraction tactic to enable better positioning.

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse


The 'horse' is therefore, in politics, a junior figure who expects patronage from the senior figure, or, in business, an associated company that expects a share in the contracts or the market-share that will result from the demise of the business rival. In the event of success, the 'horse' will be rewarded soon, in the event of failure they will have to wait a while, but as they are on the bottom rung of the ladder they have little or no distance to fall and can only rise. The loyalty in volunteering, or agreeing to be 'volunteered', will ensure their name becomes known to those who matter and should guarantee help in climbing the greasy pole. As a young person, they can afford to wait a while for the due reward.

Alternatively, the 'horse' may be acting in a more altruistic and self-sacrificial manner, knowing there is no possibility of realistic reward from the Third Party for the exercise, but is motivated by duty or loyalty to do so for the greater good of the party or organisation or cause to which they both belong. In this case, the 'horse' will probably not be a young person hoping for advancement, but an older figure at the end of their career, who volunteers as a pay-back of thanks for all the benefits they believe the cause has given them and/or as a chance to go out in a blaze of glory.

In the event of failure, the anonymous party is seen as being sufficiently powerful to protect the 'horse' from any real retribution on the part of the target, particularly since the anonymity will allow the Third Party to step in and pretend to be an honest broker between the 'horse' and the target. This is a further opportunity to enhance the reputation of the Third Party and boost their status at the expense of the target. This is an example of a win-win situation. If the exercise is viable, the Third Party gains power immediately, but even if it fails, it engineers an opportunity to resolve a stale-mate and enhance the contender's reputation, so that ultimate success is another step nearer, to the benefit of both the Third Party and the 'horse', who expects to slipstream in his/her wake.

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

I love "stalking horses"!!!

P.S. to Chris: did you try actually calling Sestak himself (or his brother / sister)?

Posted by: JakeD | May 27, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

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