The Campaign Spot

Doomsday May Come Before Toomsday for Arlen Specter

I’ll make an audacious prediction: Joe Sestak will beat Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary.

Sestak appears to be closing the gap a bit. I imagine Specter’s name-ID advantage built most of his early lead, and Sestak’s television offensive is starting to pick up steam. Specter is trying a Crist-style negative barrage, but I don’t think that is going to work for a lot of entrenched incumbents this year. Negative ads haven’t done much for Jon Corzine or Charlie Crist in recent months.

What’s more, I think this is a rather important test of the self-respect of Pennsylvania Democrats. President Obama and Vice President Biden, eager to get that 60th vote, tried to ensure a clear primary for Specter. But ultimately, who represents Keystone State Democrats isn’t up to some guy from Delaware and some guy from Hawaii California New York Illinois the District of Columbia. Most Pennsylvania Democrats have been voting against Arlen Specter for the better part of a generation; it ought to take more than a year and a half of toeing the party line for them to forget all the times they’ve disagreed with him, and/or his recent murmurs that maybe he should have remained in the GOP. If they really do back Specter because the DSCC tells them to, they rank among the biggest political cheap dates of all time.

I think Pat Toomey will have a slightly tougher race against Sestak; by eliminating the incumbent, it takes away the clearest contrast between a candidate of change and a candidate of more-of-the-same. But Toomey will be running against Washington, and either Democrat will be seen as part of “the system.” Sestak voted for health care, voted for the stimulus, voted for cap-and-trade, and is F-rated by the NRA.

(I would argue that the ideal scenario for Toomey fans is a narrow win for Specter, and that scenario seems quite possible.)