Pennsylvania Senate Update

by: Chris Bowers

Tue May 05, 2009 at 19:00


Lots of news out of Pennsylvania today. First, some polling numbers:

  • 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.

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:

"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.

Chris Bowers :: Pennsylvania Senate Update

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Good summary, Chris. (4.00 / 3)
I've done a few diaries on Sestak on Dkos.  he's not as progressive as I would like, but he's a Democrat and not that bad at all.  A "New Democrat" who won a R leaning district.  

I gave 25 or 50 to him in 2006.  Sestak would be far better than Specter.

I think his bio makes him electable and his age.  80 is a bit old.

I keep coming back to Sestak is a Dem.

Specter now is working with Harkin on a EFCA compromise.  

The key for Sestak is labor.   They are not happy with Specter on many issues.


Sestak (0.00 / 0)
I agree that he does not seem to have a progressive profile, but then again he is one of the only Democrats who is going after Specter... (which is quite extraordinary considering Democrats have ran against Specter for 30 years).

[ Parent ]
It never was going to be a slam dunk .. (4.00 / 4)
While these numbers show that he could potentially win, they also show it would be far from a slam dunk.

... especially since all the big guns are backing Specter(talk about a corrupt incumbent protection racket) .. as I stated over at The Great Orange Satan ... who .. outside of SE PA knows who Sestak is really? ... no one .. did the poll come with name ID numbers? ... besides .. if Sestak can gather up the funds .. I think PA Democratic primary voters will change their tune fast .. seeing Specter basically shit all over them


This part (4.00 / 1)
. First, he needs to clarify his position on a public health care option, which so far he has not supported.

Exactly, exactly, exactly.  I don't want a comment on a blog either- in a very public forum just this week he was equivocating on it.  We need a real and public commitment to it.


So.... (4.00 / 1)
Apparently we've gone from a situation where a Democrat was very likely to take the Senate seat from Specter, to a situation where either Specter keeps the seat or he's replaced by a more conservative Republican in Ridge. Not that Sestak has no shot, but the above look like the most likely options at this point.

This party switch has gotta be the worst trade-off since Bagwell for Anderson.


The Republicans are playing us... (0.00 / 0)
They know we don't like Specter, so they want us to primary challenge him... Today's they "release" a bogus story by Halperin and the NRSC was pushing it.  Here's the link to the interview:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05...  The whole interview is nothing but one joke after another... It's clear that Sepcter's statement wasn't serious. Halperin's "story" was nothing more than dem-baiting of the worst kind... but, the bogus story worked... got us all mad...

They want to try and rile us up so that Sestak's numbers improve enough to encourage Ridge to sign up...  Their POS polling firm also rigged the numbers to encourage Ridge to get in...  And if Ridge gets in, we're essentially done for.  I'll support and will fight for Sestak's quest for the seat, but, realistically, Ridge is the kind of "moderate" that independents crave to prevent one side from getting too much power... He'll be practically a lock.  Independents love gridlock...

This whole thing has been nothing but a giant trap...  Obviously, it's not over, yet... right wingers in PA do not want Ridge from what I'm hearing, and Sestak could have a fantastic statewide campaign, but it's a giant mess and right now the republicans have the upper hand, especially considering that Specter is still one of them, but now acting as a double agent...

All because Reid couldn't figure out what kind of douchebag Arlen was... The Republicans certainly have...  Thanks, Harry!  Hey, weren't you also responsible for the Judd Gregg debacle, too?

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!


i kept saying... (4.00 / 1)
give Specter a voting record before going ape-shit regarding the switch. I didn't expect him to be progressive but I didn't think he'd be the train wreck he is.

Democrats need to cut the chord now.

This whole affair also shows how truly moderate/conservative the state still is. In fact, the state has not had a progressive senator serve for more then 4 years in the past 40+ years. Casey has the highest progressive score in that time, and he's a pro-lifer.


down (0.00 / 0)
with specter up with hope, liberty and progress.

if this is obamas choice how progressive can his agenda be in reality, i realize obama wants to be moderate and center right but this is counter productive to helping the nation recover from the gop disaster of the last eight years and more.  


PA-7 still needs Joe (0.00 / 0)
As a resident of PA-7, I have volunteered for Sestak for the past 3 years. He's a good guy, though I don't know if I would want him to be my boss. I agree that he'd be a good senator for PA and likely better than Spector all the way around.

Having said that, I hope that this is just bluster to help move Arlen to the left. Specter wants to survive and that means toeing the line for the Dems. If Sestak's comments push him in a progressive direction, that's not so bad. But here's why I'm hoping it's just a breeze pushing the ship of Specter to the left...

I don't really want Sestak to leave district 7 yet and here's why. The local (D)'s are pretty much a mess and the only real organization is Sestak's campaign. He has singlehandedly turned the area into a place where a (D) can win. But there is a lot more work to do. Few (none?) of the PA-7 state offices (state senate, rep, countywide stuff, local stuff) are held by Dems. The (R)'s are entrenched to the point where even polling places are all manned by (R)'s. Including the ones that went 80% to Sestak/Obama. Until Sestak's campaign in '06 actually built an organization, we had zero chance of winning anything at any level. The district may be D+3 based on the 2008 federal election results, but it's more like R+3 based on the infrastructure running everything. On that, I agree with several commenters here at OL.

Now that is changing. But there is much more yet to trickle down from the federal campaigns to the local stuff. The (D) functionaries are still ineffectual. So we need several more years of building the local infrastructure to get Dems into town councils, county offices, and so on. I suspect that if the Sestak campaign goes statewide, this simply will not happen in the 7th district. There won't be a focus on getting good Dem activists into local offices.

It's particularly a shame that this is so true, since our county (and my township) actually borders the city of Phila, which has a fantastic Dem infrastructure and plenty of influence within city political machinery. And a great mayor. Not so much once you cross into PA-7.


Karl in Drexel Hill, PA


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