Many Pa. Dems mum on Specter-Sestak race

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) has the backing of President Barack Obama, but some House Democrats have not endorsed the incumbent senator over their colleague, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.).

Three congressional Democrats from Pennsylvania have endorsed Specter: Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and Reps. Chaka Fattah and Tim Holden. Not one delegation member has endorsed Sestak in the Democratic primary.

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The support from Fattah, who represents Philadelphia and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, shows that Specter has strong relationships with key Democrats from the City of Brotherly Love.

Fattah told The Hill, “We have worked together over the years.”

He added, “There’s a reason why [Specter] had such a problem with the Republican Party. Although we don’t agree on everything, we have accomplished substantive pieces of legislation, which I think is worthy of my endorsement and my vote.”

Specter had hoped for more support from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.
During a conference call with reporters on April 28, Specter said, "[Pennsylvania Gov. Ed] Rendell [D] wants to come to Washington to get Casey and [Rep. Robert] Brady and the delegation together to make a formal endorsement."

But since then, only Casey, Fattah and Holden have officially announced their support for Specter. Brady (D-Pa.), meanwhile, has remained uncommitted.

Brady has made “favorable statements” about Specter, noted Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College.

After the stimulus package passed, Brady in May said, “You can minimize that and say it’s just another vote, but this bill would not have passed if not for Arlen Specter. … This stimulus package that we’re going around and every congressman is passing out checks all over the country is because of a man named Arlen Specter.”

Brady made those remarks before Specter changed parties in late April.

Other Democrats in the delegation who have not endorsed include Reps. Jason Altmire, Chris Carney, Kathy Dahlkemper, Mike Doyle, Paul Kanjorski, Patrick Murphy, John Murtha and Allyson Schwartz.

Sestak is considered the underdog against Specter, with a recent Quinnipiac poll showing the senator with a 55-23 lead over his primary opponent.

But Specter is not taking Sestak lightly. During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Specter mocked Sestak’s voting record, saying he “missed 104 votes this year. He talks about his military record. If he was still in the service, he would be a court-martial, and he’s been AWOL, absent without leave.”

Madonna said that Pennsylvania voters may be wary of Specter’s motives for changing parties. Had he not bolted the GOP, Specter was facing a difficult primary challenge against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

“He has to do a sell job with Democrats who are leery of his conversion,” Madonna said.
More than 100 prominent Pennsylvania Democrats have endorsed Specter, including Rendell.

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“Every time Sestak moves, Specter brings out the party apparatus to act as a foil. Specter always has Democratic leaders releasing statements touting him and what he has done for the state. Specter is trying to prove that he’s a real Democrat. The subtext is that he is a good Democrat because he is supported by Democrats and supports Democratic programs,” said Madonna.

Christopher Nicholas, Specter’s campaign manager, agrees on the importance of endorsements in what could be a divisive primary. “All endorsements help. There is a cumulative effect with them. It also matters because [officials who endorse] have their own political organizations. … We are asking for endorsements from everybody.”

Sestak has taken a different approach. In a statement to The Hill, Sestak said, “We haven't asked, and this race isn't going to be one that is won because of endorsements.”

The winner of the Specter/Sestak primary is expected to face Toomey in the general election.