Pennsylvania Senate state of play, May 10th: Sestak surging

by: Chris Bowers

Mon May 10, 2010 at 09:35

( - promoted by Chris Bowers)

Note: If you are looking for information on Elena Kagan, I posted an extensive article just below this one--Chris Bowers

This morning's Muhlenberg / Morning Call tracking poll on the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary shows Joe Sestak ahead of Arlen Specter, 47%--42%.  Confirming the tracking poll, Rasmussen shows exactly the same margin for Sestak, 47%--42%.  It seems safe to assert that Sestak is now narrowly leading this campaign.

The two polls show very different favorable numbers.  Morning Call puts Specter at 52% favorable, 35% unfavorable, while Rasmussen gives him 67%--31%.  For Sestak, the numbers are 55%--14%, and 63%--22%.  Essentially, the two candidates are running even in terms of favorable ratings, but Specter has higher name ID and higher unfavorables (by about 15% in each case).

If Specter is going to have any shot in this campaign, he is going to have to drive up Sestak's negatives.  However, this is going to be very difficult:

  1. Sestak is more electable than Specter The first attack Specter will use will be to argue that he is more electable than Sestak.  Problem is, this simply isn't true.  Even before Sestak's surge in the polls, he needed 68.2% of the undecided vote to hit 50.1% against Pat Toomey (17.4% of 25.5% undecided), while Specter needed 75.5% (10.5% of 13.9% undecided).  Given that the general election polls used for those numbers were all taken before Sestak gained 25 points on Specter in the primary, it is highly likely that margin, which was already favorable to Sestak, is much more favorable to now.  It is just flat wrong to say that Specter is more electable.

  2. Democrats will not appreciate attacks against the military record of another Democrat The most memorable negative attack of the 2004 Presidential campaign were the Republican slanders against John Kerry's military record.  Attacking Joe Sestak's military record has been the most common negative approach Specter has taken in this campaign.  He is directly making these attacks "himself" over Twitter (three of his last four tweets have been to this effect), and has even run paid advertising using this attack.  This is the sort of attack that Republicans have usually employed, and as such it is extremely hard to imagine how this sort of Swiftboat attack is going to appeal to Democrats.  If anything, it will backfire.  At a time when Sestak is running ads showing Specter with Bush, this could well just disgust Democrats and reinforce Sestak's attack.  

  3. Kagan could keep pressure on Specter The main attack Sestak is using against Specter is an ad featuring Specter saying he switched parties to win re-election, and George W. Bush saying that Specter is with him when it matters most.  The major news story for this week will put Specter in exactly that box, as he voted not to confirm Elena Kagan for Solicitor General last year when he was still a Republican.  As such, any move Specter makes in response to the dominant news story will reinforce that narrative.  He is either still a Republican when it matters most, or he is an opportunist who only cares about re-election.

    Specter's vote against Kagan is already the dominant news story on him today.  In the middle of this news story, how trying to pivot to an attack on Sestak's military record will appeal to Democrats is impossible to imagine.  This is just a terrible, terrible situation for Specter.

Now, with all that said, Sestak is still only ahead by 5%, and riding a pretty big wave of new, which often means movable, supporters.  Maybe there will be something that Specter can come up with over the next eight days that will turn this around for him.  Get involved in Joe Sestak's campaign, and let's close this one out:

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Chris Bowers :: Pennsylvania Senate state of play, May 10th: Sestak surging

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Has Obama cut an ad for Specter (0.00 / 0)
I am curious if Specter is on the air with something like Lincoln has in Arkansas.

While I'm all for better Democrats... (0.00 / 0)
...and I think that Sestak will be a better D in the Senate than Specter, I have to wonder if Specter losing the primary will have a chilling effect on any other future turncoats in the Senate. Even with the backing of the leaders of both the state and national party--including the President himself--Specter may still go down in defeat. What's that say to other blue-state Republicans like Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and (maybe eventually) Scott Brown when it comes to the dangers of leaving their party for the other side?

I also wonder how Specter's going to vote during his final 7 months in office, after he loses the primary. If he going to vote as he has for the last six months? Or go back to his old Republicans ways?

Chilling (4.00 / 2)
If fears of losing a Democratic primary turn off a sitting senator who expects to lose a Republican primary, I can't muster too much anxiety.  If it just means they have to hang it up instead of seeking perpetual re-election, so be it.  We shouldn't be a party of refuge for pols with no other way to hang onto power.

Contrast with Specter the case of former Sen. Jeffords of VT, who went from R to I (but caucused with the Ds) in 2001.  It was quite clear that he was doing it not for electoral reasons (he had just been re-elected) but on principle.  There was no doubt that he would have won re-election as a D-leaning indie in 2006 if he had not retired, and I suspect if Snowe or (less likely) Collins were to pursue a similar course they would have no trouble in Maine.

However: if Specter does lose and then go back to voting R the next 6 months, that will indeed be chilling, to think what we might have had the next 6 years.  (I expect he will track somewhat back to center, but hopefully vote his conscience. After all, what will he owe to anyone at that point?)

Tim Wolfe

[ Parent ]
re: specter (0.00 / 0)
I expect he will track somewhat back to center, but hopefully vote his conscience.

voting his conscience? he doesn't have a conscience!


[ Parent ]
I'm not very concerned about either of those issues (0.00 / 0)
1. Collins and Snowe have proven that they don't need a (D) in front of their name to win in Maine.  Scott Brown is not going to become a Dem ever and needs to be defeated in 2012 by the voters in MA.  The only way this hurts liberals is if Sestak goes out and loses to Toomey, but I don't see that as any more likely than Specter doing the same -- it all comes down to the economy in November.

2. Specter could pull a McCain and start voting the other way out of spite, but there will not be a huge number of votes up for grabs the rest of this year.  There may be an immigration bill, but that will need at least 2-3 Republicans anyways and I just can't see Obama pushing the climate bill in advance of the mid-term elections.  So you do risk losing Specter on Kagan and immigration, but on the flip side there are a number of benefits...

First, it sends a message to Obama, the DNC and the DSCC that this is a liberal party controlled by liberal progressives.  Running as a DINO is a bad idea in a blue state.

Second, if Sestak does win the general election it shows that Dems do not have to be wishy-washy to get elected.  He has taken a strong stance on the repeal of DADT as well as gender and labor-related employment issues.

Finally, Sestak is simply a much younger and healthier candidate.  Not only is he likely to serve out a full six year term, but you are starting to groom a potential future Senate leader or even candidate for higher office.

Sestak has shown that he is willing to risk his own job to do the right thing for the Democratic party.  I think we should support that decision as a risk worth taking!

[ Parent ]
My main concern about supporting Sestak over Specter (4.00 / 1)
was one of your reasons for supporting Sestak:

Finally, Sestak is simply a much younger and healthier candidate.  Not only is he likely to serve out a full six year term, but you are starting to groom a potential future Senate leader or even candidate for higher office.

If Specter were to be reelected, he'd probably be out of office by 2017, at which point we could elect a real liberal to an open seat.  On the other hand, if Sestak were to be elected he'd have a lock on renomination for that seat for potentially decades, barring a real liberal from filling that seat unless he dies, retires early or is defeated by a Republican.

While I maintain that reservation, what turned me around towards favoring Sestak was the realization that there aren't many strong liberals in PA.  Joe Hoeffel is the only suitable one I can think of but he doesn't seem to do too well in statewide runs (I'm really hoping he somehow pulls out a win next week - support Joe Hoeffel for PA Governor!)

[ Parent ]
The chilling effect you speak of (0.00 / 0)
is the one that states that politicians have to answer to voters.  And given the huge disconnect between politicians and regular voters, I don't think that effect is anywhere near as powerful as you might think it is.

[ Parent ]
Of course... (0.00 / 0)
...DLCer Sestak will support Kagan: unlimited exec authority, suspend the Bill of Rights, goodbye habeas, assassinations-r-us, CheneyBush-on-steroids, etc.

If I still lived in PA I might change my registration to Dem just for the opportunity to vote against Sestak, and any other Blue Dogs/DLCers running. In the general, as always, I'd vote for left/progressive antiwar candidates -- usually not Dems -- as I will here in NM.

For the lesser-weaselists -- on Kagan, Specter was right, thus the lesser evil in the matter of further SC-sanctioned attacks on the Constitution, potentially for decades, long after Lieberman-mentored Orahma is out of office.

Jonathan Turley on Kagan:
Norman Solomon:
Kagan and Goldman-Sachs:
Marjorie Cohn:
Empty Wheel:

...and on and on. "Change," eh -- replacing the most consistently liberal/progressive member of the court with this Federalist storm trooper.


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