A Look Into Sestak's Chances Against Specter

by: Chris Bowers

Thu May 28, 2009 at 16:35

As reported in numerous outlets, Joe Sestak is on the brink of challenging Arlen Specter in the 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. Here is what Sestak said yesterday:

"I personally have made a decision that I intend to get in this race with one other item," Sestak told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room. "I haven't ... had the time to sit down with my eight-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in."

So, as long as his family agrees, it appears Sestak is in. In the extended entry, I provide my full assessment of Sestak's chance.

Chris Bowers :: A Look Into Sestak's Chances Against Specter
Due to short-term Democratic euphoria, the polls taken in the week after Specter's announcement, which showed Specter ahead by 40%+, were skewed toward Specter. The more recent Quinnipiac poll, showing a roughly 30% Specter advantage, is more representative of the electorate:

Polling in the last week
Quinnipiac: Specter 50%--21% Sestak (May 26th)

Polling in the week After Specter's Switch
Research 2000 (D): Specter 56%--11% Sestak (May 6th)
Garin-Hart-Yang (D): Specter 56%--16% Sestak (May 5th)
POS (R): Specter 64%--24% Sestak (May 4th)

If the Quinnipiac poll is accurate, then Specter is vulnerable to Sestak. However, since it is only one poll, more polls are needed before the Quinnipiac numbers can be trusted.

Sestak's strengths
According to the Q-poll, Among Pennsylvania Democrats, Specter has an 86% name recognition (5-1 favorale among Democrats), compared to Sestak's 30% (9-1 favorable among Democrats). As such, Sestak has a lot of upward movement in his numbers. Also, Joe Toresella dropping out helps Sestak, as a three-way campaign would have divided the anti-Specter vote. Further, Sestak is a relentless campaigner, and the ageing Specter will not be able to match him in terms of campaign events.

Specter's strengths
Specter starts out with twice as much money as Sestak, $6.735 million cash on hand compared to $3.343 million cash on hand. It will be impossible for Sestak to match Specter's support among big name Democrats.

Important unknowns

  1. Labor: Union support will be key in the primary. If no compromise on EFCA is passed, and / or Specter votes against any such compromise, labor might dump him and back Sestak. At the very least, they might not endorse. If either happens, then Specter is in real trouble.

    Obama's degree of support: How much President Obama goes to bat for Specter close to the primary will be huge. If he just provides vocal support via Robert Gibbs, or appears with Specter at California fundraisers, it won't mean much. However, if he appears with Specter at a public rally before the primary, and / or if he regularly uses his email list to organize and persuade for Specter, then Obama might be too much for Sestak to overcome.

    Specter's record as a Democrat: Finally, Specter's actions over the next twelve months are still to be determined. At first, he was still voting, and talking, like a moderate Republican.  More recently, he is voting a bit better, and making more pro-Democratic and pro-progressive statements.

    If Specter's record over the next year moves him into the Democratic mainstream, then he will probably be fine in the primary. If he stays on the far right of the party, then he will be in real trouble. The very busy upcoming legislative season will allow Specter to make his behavioral pattern clear.

In short, despite somewhat more promising poll numbers for Sestak, if Specter falls in line with labor and the Obama administration, then he will probably win the primary. However, if he pisses off one or both of those two, then he is in real trouble.

My conclusion from this is that a Sestak primary challenge is a win-win for progressives, and also a bit of a catch-22. The outcome of the primary is largely determined by how much Specter falls in line, and there isn't a better way to make Specter fall in line then through a serious primary challenge. So, ironically, Sestak's challenge might actually be his biggest problem: He needs Specter to keep rebuffing the party on important votes, but his challenge might very well force Specter to acquiesce to the party on all important votes.

Go Sestak. Not only would I rather he be my Senator than Arlen Specter, but there are few things I despise more in politics then powerful people trying to prevent contested primary elections. We need as many opportunities as possible to hold our elected officials accountable, not less.

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Sestak's replacement (4.00 / 2)
The bench in the Philly suburbs has gotten decent over the last few years, the name immediately coming to my mind being Brian Lentz, who was also running for the 7th CD seat back in 06, but opted (after Sestak's entry) to run for (and win) a state legislative seat (the 166th?).  I haven't followed him much since the 06 elections, but I'd wager he's done a good job (he was saying all the right things in 06, at least).

So, even if Sestak loses the primary, the Dems are likely to keep the seat, and pick up a Democrat who is, at worst, as good as Sestak.

So, there's no movement downside, although Sestak could lose out bigtime if he loses.  He's gambling a lot here, whereas we're not; either Specter moves to the left, wins the primary and cruises to reelection, OR Sestak upsets Specter and goes on to win the senate seat, while another solid Dem takes Sestak's old seat.  We have nothing to lose, but Sestak sure does.  He deserves some major props for this.

My guess is ... (0.00 / 0)
Sestak isn't getting in .. unless he has the backing of the unions .. otherwise what is the point? .. because he'll need to go around the Obama/Rendell machine to raise money

[ Parent ]
Not clear if PA-7 stays Dem (0.00 / 0)
I live in PA-7 and it's not clear at all that the seat will stay Democratic. The district has an entrenched (R) power base that still controls huge chunks of the local government - probably 90%.

Sestak has a great reputation in the district, even among many rank-and-file (R)'s. His military service was a great foot in the door, but he's been a vocal advocate for local issues and his staff does terrific constituent service. So Sestak can be the rep for PA-7 for as long as he wants. But that's because he wins R votes that are definitely not a given for another candidate.

Here's the problem: the Democratic party organization in his district is almost 100% driven by his campaign office. Until Sestak came along, the Dems were disorganized, poorly funded, and had no real ground game. If he pulls his team into a Senate race (and apparently that's the plan), the Dem's will have a massive hole to fill in the PA-7 campaign.

The rumor is the R's want to run the same guy as '08 again. Against Sestak he would be wiped out. Against someone else, I imagine many Sestak Republicans will take another look.

In a non-presidential year, with no Obama turnout (some precincts were 85% Obama in '08) and no Sestak, I think you can make the case that PA-7 is favored for the Republicans.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
Perhaps (0.00 / 0)
I think that the local Dems have started to have a bit of an organization, enough so that they are fielding actually competent candidates for city council (I'm also from D Hill, and I'm going to work to get Ed Schwartz elected).

Plus, the trends all favor the Dems.  The 7th has been voting for Dems on a presidential level for at least 4 cycles now, and it's trickled down to Senate and House elections.  I could be wrong of course; I'd love to see a 'Generic Democrat' vs. 'Generic Republican' poll for the 7th, to have some sort of gauge on where things stand.  I guess we'll find out soon enough.

[sorry for the delay, I was at a friend's wedding this weekend; I'm not trying to resurrect a zombie thread, I just thought it'd be worth responding to someone from the same town]

[ Parent ]
The trends are good (0.00 / 0)
I agree that the trends are good. It would be nice to see Generic R vs D polling.

The town council race this year will be a good test. I can tell you, though, that there are still a lot of (R)'s out there. On primary day last month, I worked at a precinct where 5 times as many R's voted as D's.


I'm not trying to be Negative Nellie. I just think we have a whole lotta work to do yet.

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
True (0.00 / 0)
Same thing happened across the town, at least according to the returns I read in News of Delco last week.  It'll probably be a low turnout election, though, which gives us a bit of an advantage...

[ Parent ]
Sestak must be unhappy being in the House. (4.00 / 1)
That's the only reason I can figure why he would do this.

I live in his district, which is an "inner ring" suburban district, historically Republican but shifting quite sharply toward the Democrats over the last 8 years. Sestak jut won his freshman race, which is the most vulnerable for any rep, and did not draw a strong challenger even during a Presidential election year, so I think his re-election in '10 would be highly likely to say the least.

On the other hand, running against Specter is likely a quixotic quest given just how canny and unprincipled Specter has been in walking the conservative-moderate line during his career. When you have no principles, it's not a problem to stick your finger into the wind and move with it, and that's what he'll do. We already know that Sestak will get no establishment support either.

To say that his odds seem long is an understatement. His tack has to be to convince the PA Democratic electorate that Specter is just an opportunist who cannot be trusted. Sure, that should be easy, since it's obviously true, but PA has known Specter for a while and is pretty comfortable with him , unfortunately. I honestly don't think his chances of doing this are very good.

So maybe Sestak just isn't liking it in the House, and figures he'll move up (admirals & generals usually feel the Senate is more appropriate for them anyway) or move out. Unless he can lose the primary and still keep his House seat -- then he's got a safety net. Anybody know if that's possible and/or feasible?

Do you think it could be just a case of a guy having principles wanting to do the right thing? (4.00 / 2)

Check out Blue Arkansas:

[ Parent ]
I don't define this as "the right thing" (0.00 / 0)
I mean, it's a great thing, and I would be thrilled were he to dethrone Specter and take the nomination, but he can also do the right thing by staying in the House for a decade and fighting for good stuff.

Deciding to run for office is not a matter of principle. It's a matter of seeing what might be accomplished and deciding if you take the risks and make the sacrifices to do it.

[ Parent ]
I really like the definitive nature of your CW (0.00 / 0)
there isn't much doubt or couching or room for fudging...

of course, given that a sitting vice-president NEVER wins the white house (hadn't happened since Ramses the 18th or something) and no one can win the white house without winning new hampshire ... well, except it happened... and a black man will never be president

you SHOULD try be less definitive, you sound ridiculous. remember the 7 dwarves when mario dropped out? remember dukakis' 17 point labor day lead ... YAWN.


It is too full o' the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way

Specifics? (0.00 / 0)
What, specifically, is overly definitive in the OP?

Karl in Drexel Hill, PA

[ Parent ]
Great plug for Sestak on Ed Schultz last nite... (0.00 / 0)
...but Keith/Rachel trapped in the beltway - both stuck on Gitmo, Rush, Newt, etc.


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