Joe Torsella Already A Serious Primary Challenger to Specter

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Apr 28, 2009 at 15:43

It turns out that Arlen Specter already has a serious primary challenger: Joe Torsella (I can't seem to find a campaign website.) Torsella is CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, head of the Pennsylvania Education Board, and was also a Rhodes Scholar. He held a variety of civic and political positions in Philadelphia during the 1990's, and narrowly lost a 2004 primary for the U.S. House to Allyson Schwartz.

Torsella today vowed to stay in the campaign, even with Specter flipping:

I decided to run for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania for one simple reason: I believe we need new leadership, new ideas, and new approaches in Washington. It's become obvious that the old ways of doing business might have worked for the special interests, but they haven't worked for the rest of us.

Nothing about today's news regarding Senator Specter changes that, or my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 - an election that is still a full year away.

This is a serious campaign. Torsella raised $596,513 during the first 51 days of his campaign, and has $586,798 on hand. While that is still a long way from the $6,735,915 that Specter has on hand, it is not to be taken lightly. Torsella has also hired a high-profile, experienced set of staff and consultants:

His campaign has hired The Campaign Group to handle media strategy. The company is run in part by Neil Oxman, a longtime Democratic political consultant who has worked extensively with Gov. Ed Rendell dating back to his days as Philadelphia Mayor, and more recently helped elect Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Finance Director Michelle Singer has held the same job under Rendell. Campaign coordinator Rebecca McNichols was Senator Bob Casey's political director during his successful election in 2006. Communications director Mark Nevins has worked for the presidential campaigns of U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

Torsella has also been on the Colbert Report:

It is worth noting that Torsella's wife Carolyn Short actually worked for Specter as general consul for the Senate Judiciary committee, chaired by Specter, starting in 2005.

I am still struggling to find out where Torsella stands on any issues, but he already serves as a serious primary challenger to Arlen Specter.

Chris Bowers :: Joe Torsella Already A Serious Primary Challenger to Specter

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He is a Rendell stalking horse (4.00 / 2)
The consensus was that Torsella was Rendell's candidate, designed to run strongly only against Toomey.

That he's staying in at all is surprising. It'll be amazing if he's still there in three months.

Still, even if he does leave soon, that's at least a window of opportunity to look for other possible candidates and to prevent the view emerging that Specter is the only choice.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Well, we got ourselves a battleground ... (4.00 / 2)
... now let's sink our resources into winning this seat for ourselves and not the democratic party.  Donating and backing a serious progressive in the primary will give us a chance to demonstrate to the dlc dems that we CAN defeat them.


I haven't yet seen evidence Torsella is a progressive... (0.00 / 0)

Not ruling him out, but waiting for more information to pass judgment.

[ Parent ]
I don't know much about Torsella either and I'm not necessarily talking about backing him ... (0.00 / 0)
... it just have to be someone that shares our values not just any democrat.  

Actually, the best case scenario IMO would be to create a winning progressive 3rd party campaign for the seat and say fuck the primaries ... save our gunpowder for the regular election.  This situation, a state that supported obama and with essentially two republicans slated to run for the seat, is very conducive to a 3rd party progressive winning this seat.  That would really knock those dlc dems on their ass.  That's hte route we ought to go.


[ Parent ]
Looking at his 2004 run (4.00 / 2)
I found an editorial endorsing him which gives some of his positions back then.  Similar editorial endorsements for Torsella or his opponent, Allyson Schwarz, are the easiest researchable clues to his policy positions.

Joe Torsella has never held elective office - Northeast Philly has not sent somebody like that to Congress in decades - but he has served some of the best and brightest.

As deputy mayor under Rendell, Torsella helped Rendell bring Philadelphia back from the financial abyss created by Mayor Wilson Goode. And, while Torsella was Goode's Northeast coordinator in 1983, voters ought not hold that against him. Every candidate is entitled to one mistake in life.

The sparkling new Constitution Center downtown is perhaps Torsella's crowning jewel. Before it opened, it had a $200,000 operating-budget deficit. As president of the center, Torsella turned that into a $200,000 operating-budget surplus. He did that, in part, by working with the Republican leadership in Congress and the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court.

Torsella vows to give back 5 percent of his salary - "I want to lead by example," he says - and his bold plan to maximize the development potential of the Delaware riverfront should be exploited for all it's worth, with the aid of his pal in Harrisburg, the governor.

With health care near the top of the domestic agenda, Torsella has some good ideas. He says an electronic record-keeping system would help to save money and slice medical errors, and he wants the Food and Drug Administration to make prescription drugs available over the counter.

Like Taubenberger, he supports extending Woodhaven Road to Philmont Avenue, and he pledges to introduce legislation in his first term to allow the federal government to limit the number of Section 8 houses on a given block.

Torsella is personally opposed to abortion, but unlike Taubenberger, he supports abortion rights. "I believe in Roe vs. Wade. There is a constitutional right to privacy," he says.

Torsella's pragmatism on the war in Iraq is impressive. He says U.S. troops should stay in Iraq until the job is done, and he says the Islamic nation is capable of eventually having democratic rule.

Then there is the info from his old campaign website via

   *   Finding solutions to the concerns of our District's elderly - controlling prescription costs, promoting access to long-term care and protecting retirement savings.
   * Fighting for universal health coverage.
   * Fulfilling the vision and bringing home federal funds to promote housing, recreation, job development along the Delaware river waterfront.
   * Keeping America safe and strong by supporting increased funding for critical homeland security priorities such as port safety, drinking water protection, and first responder training and resources.
   * Preserving precious open space and reducing traffic congestion.
   * Voting for common sense spending practices that reduce the federal deficit and stand against wasteful pork barrel projects.
   * Bringing innovative ideas to Washington, eliminating government waste and promoting government integrity and openness.
   * Implementing needed reforms in the Section 8 housing program.
   * Obtaining full funding in Washington for public education reform.
   * Working to resolve traffic and transportation issues in Northeast Philly - particularly around Roosevelt Boulevard.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

Pork (0.00 / 0)
I love this:

* Voting for common sense spending practices that reduce the federal deficit and stand against wasteful pork barrel projects.
* Working to resolve traffic and transportation issues in Northeast Philly - particularly around Roosevelt Boulevard.

No Pork!  Uhh, except possibly spending a bunch of money on roads in the CD I want to represent...

From what I remember from 2004, Torsella is basically a hack.

[ Parent ]
Are you sure it's pork? (4.00 / 1)
I drive on Roosevelt Blvd every day. Somehow I think you don't.

Let's put it this way - the traffic issues on that road are worthy of solving. It's not so much "spending a bunch of money on roads in the CD..." as it is acknowledging a problem affecting thousands of people every day and wanting to address it.

I think you can probably find better examples of pork. Torsella may indeed be a hack; I honestly don't know. But telling people in NE Philly that he would like to resolve traffic issues on the Boulevard isn't unreasonable. I'd look elsewhere for hackness (hackiness? hackitude?)

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
Indeed (0.00 / 0)
Two of the three most dangerous intersections in America are on the Boulevard, in PA-13.

[ Parent ]
The thing to remember about any potential primary challenge (0.00 / 0)
is that Specter already has that massive $6.7mil in his chest.  With the Democratic establihment agreeing to back Specter and no primary challenger that lead will be insurmountable.

Even if Torsella, or anyone else, stays in the race, where is he/she going to make up the difference with no major national race to generate interest from the masses of small donors?

The money, organization and pocket votes will be there for Specter as agreed.  Short of some unforseen ground-shifting circumstances, or a serious splintering of the national and/or PA Democratic establishment (always a possibility) he is a lock for the General.

How much is that money worth? (0.00 / 0)
Specter can blanket the airwaves. But he can't hide four decades of Republicanism.

The case against Specter is fairly simple. He's a typical Republican (flax tax, supported Alito and Roberts but not Johnsen), he flipped on EFCA to save his skin then fled his party when that failed. Now he wants the Democratic nomination without having to act like a Democrat.

That's a message that can easily be disseminated mouth-to-mouth and doesn't need millions upon millions. Whereas Specter's rationale for running as a Democrat needs a lot of money to make it look reasonable.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
He's not a typical Republican (0.00 / 0)
He's pretty much the same as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and there's some difference between those three and your typical Republican.

One key to defeating Specter in a Democratic primary is to not splinter the left and allow him to win with a mere plurality.  One thing the netroots can do is work to prevent that sort of scenario from happening by anointing a front-runner for the progressive banner.  I'd start by adopting an attitude of "get in early or stay out".  No one gets to hedge their bets and wait to see how Specter is received if they want the blessing of the netroots.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
more money is great to have... (0.00 / 0)
...but there is a saturation point which the effectiveness declines, particularly in primaries.

Remember the target group is much narrower than a general election and that turnout is far more important than persuasion.  Specter will need Democratic activists to drive his turnout to the Democratic Primary...if a strong campaign is waged against him, $6 million won't be nearly enough to buy those activists.

The question is, can we find a candidate that can raise enough money to be competitive and project the credibility needed to get those activists on board in spite of the wishes of the "national party".  Torsella is demonstrating the fund raising chops but what about the rest? Is he a progressive? is he as someone above indicates just a "hack"?

The lower turnout is, the more important the most hardcore of Democratic activists become, the higher turnout is, the more risk there will be "gaming of the system" a la Joe Lieberman 2006, cross-over voting, etc...and the more expensive the race will become for a challenger.

It isn't about TV ad buys in a primary, it is about boots on the ground getting out the vote through a comprehensive field program.

[ Parent ]
Bill Kortz Also Announced (0.00 / 0)
Pennsylvania State Representative Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) also announced his candidacy on April 21. He has a Web site placeholder. It will be interesting to see if he stays in. He's a former U.S. Steel plant manager and an anti-machine/clean government sort of progressive candidate.

Torsella has raised a lot of money and has already said he's staying in, so those are two obvious pluses.

Oddly enough if the Democratic Party establishment is trying to clear the field for Specter it could end up hurting him in a Democratic primary. The best chance of defeating Specter is if there's only one strong primary challenger on the ballot. (For reference see Lamont, Ned.) If Torsella stays in and the rest of the field clears, that's the go-to guy.

Torsella (0.00 / 0)
It seems that Torsella is dead set on staying in. Like everyone has said, there's not alot about him but he's a way more progressive and innovative than Specter without a doubt. A true Democrat.

I actually came across his ActBlue account where you can donate to him:

[ Parent ]

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