In the final hours of the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary campaign, I spoke with Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter on this Sunday’s “NBC10 at Issue.” I asked Congressman Sestak what being a Democrat means to him. Sestak answered, “That working families have a chance. That those who are unemployed have someone in Washington who will be a warrior for them. Washington is broken.”
Sestak went on to criticize Arlen Specter about Specter’s switch last year from the Republican Party. However, Sestak says his own references to “a new generation” have nothing to do with Specter’s age but rather that Specter has been “down there for 30 years advancing a Republican agenda.” As for Specter’s attack ads targeting Sestak on campaign pay issues , missed votes and his Navy career, Joe Sestak said, “These ads of his say more about Arlen than about anyone else.” Both men disagree on whether Sestak’s ad in which Specter is seen saying he switched parties to be re-elected is fair. The quote is accurate, but Specter supporters believe the sentence that follows explains that Specter’s motivation is not selfish. Sestak supporters see it differently.
I asked Arlen Specter which Specter we would get in the next 6 years, the one who supported tax cuts under George Bush, the one who backed the Iraq War, voted for Justices Scalia and Thomas and voted against Elena Kagan, or the Specter who voted for the stimulus, is pro-choice and who now says he is considering Elena Kagan? Senator Specter responded, “I changed parties to save my job so that I could continue to serve in the United States Senate to save jobs of Pennsylvanians and Americans.” He says his stimulus vote was “an act of political principle and some say, courage.” As for voting for the clearly conservative Scalia and Thomas, Specter answered, “Well listen, you make your best judgment you can at the time.”
Senator Specter tells me that a few days ago he had a “forthcoming meeting” with President Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan and that he is “not going to make a knee-jerk reaction” for or against her now even though he voted against her last year for Solicitor. Congressman Sestak has already come out firmly in favor of Kagan and says Specter is now “back-pedaling.” Specter says he voted against her because she did not answer questions he felt should have been answered.
I asked Specter about his personal vote for John McCain for President, which if successful, would have made possible the Presidency of Sarah Palin. I asked if that was sound Democratic judgment. His response: “Well, Sarah Palin’s selection by John McCain was questioned by many including Arlen Specter.” In March of last year, about 5 or 6 weeks before he switched to the Democratic Party, in a quote in an article by”The Hill”, Specter indicated that having 41 Republican Senators was good so that Democrats did not have the 60 vote super majority. I asked him about that statement. His response, “Well, I believe that the Republicans have gone too far.”
As for Specter’s insistence that Sestak release his Navy records, Sestak says he will not as a matter of principle. Sestak served 31 years in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of 3-Star Admiral. He retired as a 2-Star because he did not serve enough time as a 3-Star to be able to retire at that rank.
As for which can better take on likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey, Joe Sestak says he is the one who can better beat Toomey. Says Sestak, “People know on the Republican side he (Specter) betrayed them, independents know he would be a flight risk and more than anything else people today want someone who is independent minded.” Arlen Specter said, “I beat him (Toomey) before and I can beat him again he’s tough” and that in a town meeting on health care last year he listened to “tea party gang” criticism. Said Specter, “I took on the guy with fists clenched”(the angry citizen’s fists).
This is a race that will be decided by which candidate Democrats think is the more reliable or truer Democrat, whether Democrats who have voted against Specter for years can themselves make the switch, whether Sestak’s candidacy inspires voters as they were in 2008, also by which candidate Democrats think can win in the fall, whether ads defined the other better, as well as how anti-incumbency plays and the success or failure of turnout efforts that target communities leaning toward one candidate or another.
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