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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
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.