Update on 2010 Pennsylvania Race for Arlen Specter’s US Senate Seat

Cong. Joe Sestak
Cong. Joe Sestak
by Randy Shannon
Only two years ago Pennsylvania voters gave Bob Casey a victory over the Republican ultra-right darling Rick Santorum in the U.S. Senate contest, and sent several Republican Congressmen packing.

The 2008 election results in Pennsylvania saw a stronger shift of the electorate to the left across the whole political spectrum.  In 2008 first-term Democratic Congressmen like Joe Sestak and Jason Altmire strengthened their positions while Kathy Dahlkemper defeated 3rd CD Republican Phil English to gain another Democratic seat in Congress for Pennsylvania.

Barack Obama won Pennsylvania with the help of central rural counties in Pennsylvania shifting to the Democratic column for the first time in decades while the suburban counties around Philadelphia accelerated their shift to the Democratic column. Even though the rust belt along the Ohio River lost Democratic votes, the margin was small. Beaver and surrounding counties voted about 48% for Democrat Barack Obama.

Perhaps more importantly for the 2010 race for U.S. Senator, over 22,000 Pennsylvania Republicans changed their registration to Democrat.

The upshot of these developments is the uneasy alliance between the Heinz-Hillman financial oligarchy and the far-right Mellon-Scaife group has collapsed. The Hillman strategy has been to control Pennsylvania politics by funding conservatives in the Democratic Party primaries and centrists in the Republican primaries. Sen. Arlen Specter has been one of their best investments. He has been able to maneuver for 16 years to prevent labor and progressive forces from gaining a political voice in Washington.

Richard Mellon Scaife has actively promoted the most far-right ideologues that could be dug up or pried out of the woodwork of Pennsylvania communities. From promoting ultra-rightists to take over local school boards, to funding the attacks on Bill Clinton, to financing far-right front groups, to Rick Santorum, and the Pittsburgh Tribune, Scaife has locked up the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Sen. Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat is the prima facie evidence that the Hillman-Heinz elite has decided to abandon their “two-party” strategy to control Pennsylvania. They have decided that the Democratic Party, where they have long cultivated their support network and posed as “friends” to labor, will be their main tool to contol the state.

The shift of the Hillman-Heinz elite and their hoard of cash to the Democratic Party comes at a price. While voters, especially labor, women, minorities, and young people are looking for change, and especially for getting rid of the Bush legacy, the Hillman-Heniz elite want a guarantee that their political assets will not be lost in the 2010 election.

Congressman Joe Sestak, a centrist Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs, and a former U.S. Navy Admiral is a product of the new progressive wave in Pennsylvania Democratic Party politics. He has the financial base and popularity in Eastern Pennsylvania to mount a serious race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in 2010. His positions are decidedly more progressive than Arlen Specter.

The long drawn-out behind the scenes talks in Washington that were revealed after Sen. Specter switched to the Democratic Party were not so much about Specter’s position in the Democratic Senate caucus. They were really about what the Democratic Party establishment currently controlling the White House and the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) were willing to do to make the Hillman-Heinz money welcome in their new home.

As seen in this Pittsburgh Tribune article below, the deal that has been made is that the White House and Senate leaders will try to prevent any Democrat in Pennsylvania from running in the primary against Specter, thus guaranteeing that Specter will be re-elected for a fourth term. Apparently, the Washington Democratic establishment was so eager for the Hillman-Heinz cash, that there was no demand for Specter to moderate his positions on such key issues as health care reform or the employee free choice act.

It apparently only took a phone call to convince Joe Torsella, current chair of the State Board of Education, to drop out of the race. The prospect of facing Democrat Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary instead of Republican Arlen Specter in the general election “probably would be negative personal and more about Senator Specter’s past.”

Last week Vice-President Joe Biden sent an email to 500,000 Democratic voters in Pennsylvania talking up his “friend” Arlen Specter. So the Democratic establishment is following through on their committments to force Specter down the throats of Democrats in Pennsylvania, despite his long record of support for Bush policies and his suppression of labor in Pennsylvania.

Congressman Sestak has not declared as a candidate for US Senate even though support from progressive voters is pouring in. He says he is waiting to see how Specter votes on the Employee Free Choice Act and other Democratic issues that will be coming up.

It is more likely that Sestak is waiting to see what the labor movement in Pennsylvania is going to do. Although Specter has long courted Pennsylvania AFL-CIO leaders, he has seldom delivered for working families in the state. When the Employee Free Choice Act never had a chance of becoming law, Specter supported it. Now that it has a chance, Specter opposes it.

In 2004 Specter was opposed by a progressive Democratic Congressman Joe Hoeffel from eastern Pennsylvania. Incredibly, the PA AFL-CIO endorsed Arlen Specter, who went on to defeat Joe Hoeffel by 590,000 votes. This time labor will have even more power to decide Pennsylvania’s next senator since the Scaife-controlled Republican Party has become a right-wing circus act.

Hopefully, Specter’s betrayal of the Employee Free Choice Act, his dilution of the stimulus bill with tax cuts, and his anti-labor positions on the budget and healthcare will convince the AFL-CIO leadership to put the interests of working families above promises of political “friends and influence” in high places.

Go to next page for Tribue-Review article.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 

DSCC, White House want Sestak sidelined

By Salena Zito

Sunday, May 24, 2009

 Word out of Washington, D.C., is that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the political wiseguys from the Obama administration plan on “visiting with” Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Joe Sestak.

Their objective is clear: Get him off the stage and out of a primary race against incumbent (and now Democrat) Sen. Arlen Specter.

“I have received a call” from DSCC chairman Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Sestak said, “but we keep missing each other.”

So the battle lines are drawn: Sestak is not inclined to be pushed out of the race, and Menendez’s marching orders from the White House are to shove, not just push.

“Joe Sestak is a very credible candidate,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based political consultant. “If Specter would have stayed in the GOP, I believe Sestak would have been the Democratic nominee.”

Ceisler said part of Sestak’s appeal is that he is outside the traditional Democrat establishment and doesn’t owe anyone anything: “He is sitting on enough cash to lay the foundation for a good campaign.”

Seven years ago, it was Ed Rendell who was considered anti-establishment.

“Rendell won the 2002 Democratic primary over Bob Casey Jr. without the backing of any real establishment base within his party or the unions,” said GOP strategist Kent Gates. “He won based on geography and profile in the southeast, as well as an incredible ability to raise money nationally and within the state.”

Casey, like Specter, had the state committee, the state party and labor unions behind him. Yet he lost by nearly 13 percentage points.

Ceisler predicted that President Obama will try to shut Sestak off from traditional campaign fundraising sources. But Sestak still could produce a strong fundraising showing.

Would it be enough? “To be determined and tested,” Ceisler said.

As of last week, Sestak had no plans of going anywhere but forward. “I felt when everyone was told to get out of the race that it was violating a principle of why I got into politics. Rather than being upfront and letting Pennsylvania Democrats have a choice in an election, they have cut a deal,” he said.

The downside for Sestak is that he would have to give up his House seat to run. But fear is no deterrent for a guy who was a Navy admiral and won his House seat by defeating an incumbent, Curt Weldon, in eastern Pennsylvania’s 7th District. “Last time I checked, there was no anointing of individuals to seats in America,” Sestak said. “Washington is trying to be a kingmaker. … This is a primary; it is open to all.”

Gates said Sestak “can win the primary by piecing together a coalition of progressive voters, voters who still want change from the Bush era, union members who have not backed Specter and younger voters.”

If Sestak follows his gut and ignores the bullies, Specter’s final career verdict will be decided by a jury of Democrats who never before were his primary-election peers.

And that verdict also could be one about “jury shopping” for political gain.


4 thoughts on “Update on 2010 Pennsylvania Race for Arlen Specter’s US Senate Seat”

  1. Look, Arlen is definitely not a super-progressive. But saying he “he has seldom delivered for working families in the state” is flat out wrong! Senator Specter has been a crusader for improved workplace safety for PA’s miners and their families, for Pennsylvania veterans, and for equality in the workplace.

    You may not think his political philosophy is progressive enough, but his record of accomplishments on progressive issues is very good.

  2. Jonathan,
    You couldn’t be more wrong. Specter has a long history of playing working families for fools, constantly taking a reasonable position only to back down when it counts. He has a history of running to the center every 6 years to get re-elected, only to let us down after he has garnered labor support in his re-election bid. His support of employee free choice when it had no chance, only to back track when it had a chance of passing is vintage Specter. I was happy to see him change to the Democratic Party more for what it meant to the Republicans than for how it helped us. The good thing is that under pressure from the party, his positions will without a doubt become more progressive. The bad thing is that, at absolute best, he is center right. A real Democrat like Sestak (who could also be more progressive) is a far superior choice. Sestak would kick the shit out of Toomey, maybe by more than Casey beat Santorum.

  3. Jonathan,

    Sen. Specter has sponsored or supported legislation that is positive for miners and other working people, unlike many of his Republican colleagues. But he also supports the powers that are destroying the lives of working people by exporting our jobs and ripping off the economy. He is the crumb distributor for the wealthy elite.

    What good are mining laws when he supports an administration that does not enforce the law and that appoints the violators to enforce the law. Here is an article from the “Mining Top News” about how the Bush administration drags its feet on enforcing mine safety. Is that Specter’s fault. Absolutely YES!


    On balance, Arlen Specter, has hurt the working people of Pennsylvania.

  4. As someone who lives in Sestak’s district but is not by any means a wholehearted supporter of his I need to point out that both he and Specter are more alike than different on a number of issues that really matter to me. Unfortunately we’ve seen a rightward drift on the part of the Democratic Party, ostensibly to lure “moderates” and even disaffected conservatives away from the GOP, but, as I see it, more as a way to cash in on the campaign contributions from those who have traditionally supported the Republicans: Wall Street, military contractors, etc.

    As for Sestak, there are those of us who have been trying to convince him to support single payer since before he was first elected to Congress. He has come out instead as a defender of the Massachusetts plan and “free enterprise” — and though he may really believe in these things, a more cynical view would be that he doesn’t want to offend the health insurance cartel. As a result he and other “Baucus Democrats” are condemning millions to poor or virtually no coverage while claiming to be working towards universal health care.

    His defense of US global military domination is another area where he has put himself on the side of powerful corporate interests. Again, it’s possible that he believes in “Pax Americana” and the role of the US military as the world’s policeman, but this misguided approach has sucked up our financial resources and endangered and cost the lives of US military personnel and countless non-US civilians around the world while providing enormous profits for military contractors. This is bad policy, pure and simple, but it’s red meat for those voters caught up in a pro-war mindset.

    What this boils down to — not just these two issues, but we could talk about banking, telecommunications, and other areas where large corporations dominate the economic scene — is that there really isn’t all that much difference between the Dems and the GOP these days, with a few — very few — exceptions. Sure we’ll see them fight over abortion, gay marriage and other issues that have little impact on their corporate sponsors. But when it comes to challenging the powers that be I’m not sure we’ll be seeing a substantial difference between Specter and Sestak — or even Toomey.

    In the end they will all defend private insurance and excessive military spending and probably say little about price-gouging energy companies and other predatory business practices. We need to focus on these issues and do everything we can to awaken others to the widespread abuse of power not only tolerated but facilitated by so many Republicans and Democrats alike.

    Vote for the lesser of two evils if you wish, but we should never withhold criticism of those we have voted for out of fear that we are somehow weakening our position. On the contrary, not speaking out when Bill Clinton pushed through NAFTA, helped to deregulate Wall Street and got us involved in a war in the Balkans has substantially weakened the progressive wing of the Democratic party far more than any critique being offered of the likes of Clinton or Sestak.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s