Lots of news out of Pennsylvania today. First, some polling numbers:
Second, in addition to Specter's terrible voting and policy record in his first week as a Democrat, now comes word that he is still cheering for Republicans to win other Senate elections. In a weekend interview with the New York Times magazines, Specter argues that Norm Coleman should be declared the winner in Minnesota:
- Democratic primary: Republican polling out Public Opinion Strategies shows Specter leading Sestak 57%-20% in the Democratic primary. While it may seem strange to hear me say this, these are not terrible numbers. This week will be the all-time peak for Specter's popularity among Pennsylvania Democrats. If 57% is the best he can do, without anyone really making the case against him from a Democratic perspective, then he is vulnerable.
Now, these are not great numbers for Sestak, either. While he would likely receive the lion's share of undecideds due to his low name ID, I had been hoping for him to be within 20% of Specter. Had that been the case, then he would have been virtually assured of victory in the event of a primary challenge. While these numbers show that he could potentially win, they also show it would be far from a slam dunk. The relative difficulty of this campaign versus winning re-election in the increasingly Democratic PA-07 might cause him to think twice about running statewide.
- Republican Primary: The same poll shows Tom Ridge ahead of Pat Toomey in the Republican primary 60%-23%. While the gap is the same as the Democratic primary, the 37% deficit here is worse for Toomey than for Sestak. After all, Toomey has already won 49% of the vote in a previous Pennsylvania primary, so a 37% deficit for him is based less on name ID and a favorable week for his opponent, than it is for Sestak.
Ridge has previously said that he will decide whether to enter the campaign in the next two weeks.
"There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."
Not only is Specter still voting with Republicans, he is still make public statements on their behalf during elections. What a great deal for us so far.
Meanwhile, Joe Sestak is sounding like a candidate more and more:
I asked Sestak what those issues were beyond EFCA, and he proceeded to list just about every major item on the Democratic agenda: Economic security for Pennsylvanians--Specter voted for the Bush tax cuts; health reform--which Specter helped derail in the 1990s; education--reducing costs, and increasing quality so that Pennsylvania doesn't compete with Florida for the honor of being the oldest state in the union; the environment; and national defense--Specter voted, of course, for the Iraq war.
But according to Sestak, even if Specter moves in the right direction, the more important question is whether or not he'll actually stick to those new positions going forward. If Specter's re-elected, he'll be senator (potentially) until 2016, and Sestak worries he won't be reliable over time.
Sestak is already offering a campaign-style argument in interviews. That is a pretty strong indication he will run.
If Sestak does run, he would be wise to wait at least another few weeks. First, he needs to clarify his position on a public health care option, which so far he has not supported. Second, he needs to see if Tom Ridge will run, and avoid being swamped by the media frenzy that would accompany such an announcement. Third, he needs to wait for the honeymoon Specter is feeling among Pennsylvania Democrats to wear off a bit, which normally takes a minimum of three weeks. Fourth, we all need to hear more about Joe Toresella (what are his positions? will he stay in the campaign much longer?), as a divided primary field against Specter would probably make a challenge more difficult. All in all, he would be wise not to announce before Memorial Day.
As hot as the campaign seems right now, the primary is still a year away. As such, there is still plenty of time to let the field settle before deciding on the best course of action.