(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:
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.
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.