PA-Sen: Open Primary Would Benefit Sestak

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 18:03


(Via Swing State Project) According to a report in The Hill, a state legislator in Pennsylvania has introduced a bill to make the Pennsylvania primary open (that is, any Pennsylvania registered vote can participate), instead of the current closed format (that is, only Pennsylvanians who have registered as Democrats can vote). The Hill argues that such an open primary would benefit, and is the work of, Arlen Specter:

Such an approach could feasibly help Specter (D-Pa.) win the Democratic primary, too, as he prepares for a challenge from the left from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.).

The timing could be more than coincidental.

When The Hill sat down with Specter before his party switch, he talked about opening up the primaries in Pennsylvania to independent voters, in the name of helping him defeat a conservative primary challenger. He acknowledged he was contacting state legislators in hopes of doing just that.

While it is highly likely that this bill is being introduced in the hopes of benefiting Specter, and that the pro-Specter Democratic leadership of the state had a hand in introducing the bill, the overall effort is flawed from the start. This is because polling shows clearly that an open primary would benefit Joe Sestak, not Arlen Specter:

  1. Specter is much weaker among Independents and Republicans than Democrats. Among registered Democrats that self-identify as Independent or Republican, Joe Sestak already leads 46%--39%, according to the detailed GQR poll on the campaign (PDF, page 12). Further, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll on the campaign, Specter's favorability among Republicans was only 18%, his favorability among Independents was 46%, and his favorability among Democrats was 70%. Given these numbers, it is hard to imagine how introducing more Independents and Republicans into the electorate would actually help Specter. Pennsylvania Republicans hate Arlen Specter, and they will come out to vote against him en masse in the primary if given the opportunity.

  2. Specter loses if he appears to be trying to win at all cost. Here is one of the two money quotes from the GQR polling memo (page 4):

    Among those inclined to believe Specter switched because agrees with Democrats more on the issues, he trumps a potential Democratic challenger by 56 points, 74 - 18 percent. However, among those who believe Specter's primary rational was political expediency, he trails a generic Democratic candidate by 32 points, 28 - 60 percent

    If Specter has already acknowledged that he tried to make an open primary to save himself electorally, then any legislative attempt to create an open primary will only reinforce statewide opinion that Specter is acting mainly to save his own job. As the GQR poll shows, no message could be more damaging to Specter's re-election chances than that (expect, possibly, when people learn that Joe Sestak exists, given that Sestak leads 52%-44% among Democrats who have heard of both candidates.)

So please, by all means, make Pennsylvania an open primary. As a Sestak supporter, I can think of few moves that would do more to help defeat Arlen Specter.
Chris Bowers :: PA-Sen: Open Primary Would Benefit Sestak

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if GOP voters can cross over explicitly to make Specter the Dem nominee to then beat him, (0.00 / 0)
how is Sestak helped? This is absolutely not helpful to anyone anywhere -- except for those who want Specter to stay in office.

How is anyone really helped by making this an open primary? Sestak is not well-known statewide, and will not have state or national support or millions to spend -- and the president will be campaigning for Specter, too.

This is just more heavy-handed changing things to ensure Specter stays in and to ensure Democrats can't choose.


They would cross over to defeat Specter in the primary, not help him (4.00 / 2)
Republicans would cross over in the primarry to defeat Specter, not help him. They will take any chance to defeat Specter.

[ Parent ]
i wouldn't if i was them -- i'd ensure he was the nominee - and then savage him in the general (0.00 / 0)
for his utter lack of any principles, scruples, or concern with anything beyond his own personal power and comfort.

and over and over we've been hearing that Specter isn't polling well overall, no?

If Specter had stayed a Repub and won his primary, would he win the general?



[ Parent ]
it'd be easy -- Specter has given them so much ammo and admitted so much (0.00 / 0)
that it'd be much easier for them to win against him -- as opposed to Sestak, who would make their rightwinger talk issues and policy, etc.

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and ensuring he's the nominee also depresses Dem turnout while raising GOP turnout (0.00 / 0)
-- some Dems will definitely stay home if he's the nom, and many Repubs will want to see him go down.

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Are you all suggesting (0.00 / 0)
that Toomey (assuming he is the GOP nominee) will actually beat Specter in the general?

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i'm saying Specter has made himself a pathetic piece of damaged goods -- (0.00 / 0)
that he and DC and PA Dems have handed the GOP their whole campaign against him

and that Toomey (or any Repub) won't run on his psycho ideas, but would love to run against Specter.

so, yes-- i'm saying any Repub will win.

Santorum won there, for god's sake.


[ Parent ]
I'm not sure this is true (4.00 / 1)
Let's consider the following classes of Republicans and independents:
A) People who like both Specter and Toomey
B) People who dislike both Specter and Toomey
C) People who dislike Specter but like Toomey
D) People who like Specter but dislike Toomey.

It seems reasonable to me to believe that some of these groups are more likely than others to vote in the Democratic primary in an open primary, as long as there is at least some opposition to Toomey (and I suppose I am making a big assumption that he will be the front runner on primary day).  I suspect classes A and B are so small relative to the other two that we can ignore them. I would suggest that people in category C are more likely to stay within the Republican primary so they can cast a vote for Toomey than they are to cross over in an attempt to screw Specter.  People in category D, I would think, are more likely to vote for Specter.

There is also the possibility of other Democrats besides Sestak entering the race and splitting any anti-Specter voters.

Has anyone looked into whether or not people are more likely to cross party lines to make an affirmative vote for a candidate than to make a negative vote against a candidate in an open primary?  I do know that the political science literature out there suggests that the effect of strategic voting is usually overrated and that open primaries tend to result in candidates closer to the center than closed primaries.

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


It's unclear how an open primary will impact the race... (0.00 / 0)
Primaries, by their very nature bring out the activists in a party.  CLOSED primaries ensure party activists will represent the largest percentage of voters.

Party activists are more liberal than the rest of their party on the left and more conservative than the rest of their brethren on the right.

The liberal activists are no fan of Specter.  They are not likely to cave into the establishment and vote for Specter if they believe their is a viable alternative whom they believe can win the general election in November, 2010.  

This will come down to who gets out more voters, the establishment who will need to rally voters who don't normally participate in primaries or activists who are used to coming on for primaries.

Unions will be pivotal if such a primary match up emerges.  Unions are at the base of the activist wing of the Democratic party.   They set up phone banks, volunteer and do a great job getting out the vote from within their unions and from the community at-large.

The real fight - in my opinion, will be whether or not the establishment pushing for Specter (Obama, Rendell, et al.) will be able to persuade the major unions in Pennsylvania to see things their way.

An open primary is a huge wild card for both sides.  These people will be voting for many different reasons.  Some will be voting against Specter because they want to pay him back for switching parties.  Some will be voting against him because they believe Sestak will be easier to defeat in a general election.  Some will vote for Specter as the name they know.  Others will vote for Specter because they simply like him better than the more liberal Sestak.  However, make no mistake about it, in an open primary, very few - if any, Independent and Republican voters will be going to the polls out of a desire to support Sestak.  For one reason or another, these voters are coming out to vote up or down on Arlen Specter.

Anyone who tells you they know the intentions of these voters is full of it.  At this point, not enough polling and research has been conducted to determine what impact these new open primary voters will have on the Democratic primary.

As an activist liberal in the party I will be supporting Sestak financially and even though I do not live in Pennsylvania, I'm willing to work a phone bank and possibly travel there in support of him.  

How are any real Democrats expected to simply forget all the awful legislation, programs and Supreme Court nominees Arlen Specter has supported over the years?  As recently as three months ago, we were all in search of finding a candidate to send the man into political retirement. Not simply because he was a Republican, but because we knew we needed a Senator who voted the way we wanted him to on issues of importance to progressives.  No candidate is perfect, but surely Pennsylvania Democrats can do better than Arlen Specter.

Specter has changed the "R" after his name to a "D", but he has not changed the way he votes or who he is since "Seeing the light" and changing parties.

Pennsylvania isn't like Louisiana or Arkansas where we have to settle for a DINO senator.  While Senator Casey is more conservative than any other Democratic senator in the Northeast, he's certainly far more progressive than Senators like Mark Pryor and Blanche Lambert.


Republicans will vote for Specter in an open primary (0.00 / 0)
I don't think Republicans will come out in droves against Specter in an open primary. However, if they come out at all I think it more likely that they will vote for him because they think Toomey can beat him in November. Toomey should easily win the Republican vote in the general election and Specter as the Democratic nominee will depress Democratic turnout,and for that matter Independent turnout as well, in November.

I think Toomey has a better (0.00 / 0)
shot against Specter if for no other reason than Specter is not the Democratic candidate to fire up the base.  They been voting against him for years and may choose to sit this one out.

[ Parent ]
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