Joe Torsella, the only Democrat who had declared his candidacy for the Pennsylvania Senate race next year before Sen. Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party, announced Thursday night that he is pulling out of the race.

In a statement and web video, Torsella, a former head of the National Constitution Center, said Specter's decision changed the dynamic of the race.

"Over time, it's become clear to me that the kind of campaign this would become is not the kind of campaign I - or you - signed up for," Torsella said. "It would probably become negative, personal, and all about Senator Specter's past, not our common future. And that doesn't do Pennsylvania any good.

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"So I've decided that I'm not going forward with my campaign for the Senate under these circumstances."

Torsella's announcement comes as a surprise because his campaign had made several statements suggesting he was ready to take on Specter in the Democratic primary. For example, Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Torsella, told the BBR just 10 days ago that the campaign was looking for ways to capitalize on liberal Pennsylvania Democrats who would be wary of accepting Specter into the party.

Torsella's camp also forcefully contradicted a statement Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's (D) that he was seeking to clear the field for Specter.

There are a few things that may have motivated Torsella to make his decision. First, and most obvious, is that Torsella likely figured that Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey would defeat Specter in the Republican primary (as polls indicated he would) and that Toomey would be easier to defeat than Specter in the general election.

Call me crazy, though, but I find it hard to believe there wasn't some backroom maneuvering here. From one perspective, Torsella getting out could encourage Rep. Joe Sestak, who has already captured the hearts of liberals, to get into the race.

From another perspective, this could definitely be a sign that Democrats are seeking to do exactly what Rendell said: Clear the Democratic field for Specter.



jeremy.jacobs@thehill.com