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.
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.