Politics 2010: Will Democrats embrace Specter as their candidate?

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  May 16, 2010 at 5:00 AM
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The Democratic primary race between incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter and challenger Rep. Joe Sestak is up in the air as are more than 40 percent of the voters.

A Suffolk University Political Research Center poll released Friday indicated Joe Sestak held a 49 percent-to-40 percent edge over incumbent Specter in the U.S. Senate contest Tuesday among likely Democratic primary voters. Twelve percent of voters were undecided.

A Quinnipac University poll released earlier last week indicated Sestak was within 2 percentage points of Specter, the veteran Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat U.S. senator, 44 percent to 42 percent, in what a pollsters called a too-close-to-call party primary race.

"The intangibles are clearly on Sestak's side. He has the momentum and the anti-incumbent wave sweeping the country is a good omen for the challenger," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The Quinnipiac poll, however, reveals 14 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were undecided and 29 percent who named a candidate said they may change their mind.

The last Democrat standing likely will face Republican Pat Toomey, who holds a commanding 60 percent-to-9 percent lead over Peg Luksik among likely Republican primary voters, Quinnipiac results indicate.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato was the choice of 38 percent of likely voters, followed by state Auditor General Jack Wagner with 11 percent, state Sen. Tony Williams with 10 percent and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel with 9 percent, the Quinnipac poll indicated. But again looks are deceiving because 32 percent said they were undecided and 56 percent of those naming a candidate said they could be persuaded to vote for someone else.

The Democratic winner seems destined to face Attorney General Tom Corbett who leads state Rep. Sam Rohrer 57 percent to 14 percent in the GOP gubernatorial primary, Quinnipiac reported.

Specter, seeking a sixth term, abandoned the Republican party last year, saying "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans." A Republican since 1966 after migrating from the Democratic Party, Specter said he was "disappointed" that many in the GOP "didn't want me to be their candidate."

His timing could have been a little better, observers say. Specter placed his political fate in the hands of Democrats who don't necessarily trust him in an atmosphere that is definitely anti-incumbent, The New York Times wrote recently.

There's another fly in the ointment for Specter: explaining why he voted against Elena Kagan when President Barack Obama nominated her for solicitor general, but now is open to consider her for the U.S. Supreme Court. He's open, he says, because they are different jobs, the Times said.

Toomey, a former member of Congress and one-time leader of the conservative Club for Growth, has run against Specter before and lost. Specter's supporters say he would make a much stronger candidate than Sestak against Toomey in November.

"I am firmly of the belief that Arlen Specter is head and shoulders above anyone else in his ability to lead us to victory this November," T.J. Rooney, Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman, told the Times. "Arlen Specter knows how to beat Toomey: he has done it before."

Not to be overshadowed, the gubernatorial race to succeed term-limited Ed Rendell should is shaping up to be a high-stakes contest in its own right.

Because Democrats seemingly are more uncertain about who their nominee will be, observers told CQ Politics they expect a dogfight until Tuesday, partially because of the implications the governor's race has on redistricting after the 2010 Census. Republicans have an apparently firm majority in the state Senate and Democrats small edge in the state House, so Democrats want to hang on to the governor's office as a counter the GOP controlling redistricting, political observers said.

Running for Sestak's seat in the 7th Congressional District in the Democratic primary are Gail Conner, state Rep. Bryan Lentz, and E. Teresa Touey. Former U.S. Attorney and ex-Delaware County District Attorney Pat Meehan is unopposed in the Republican primary.

Almost lost in all of the spotlight-grabbing races is the special election to fill the 12th Congressional District seat left vacant by the Feb. 8 death of Democratic Rep. John Murtha. Running to complete Murtha's unexpired term are Murtha's former aide Mark Critz and Republican businessman Tim Burns.

Critz and Burns also are on their respective party primary tickets for Murtha's seat in the next Congress. Also on the Democratic ballot are Ryan Bucchianeri and Ron Mackell Jr.

On the Republican side, Burns faces a challenge from William Russell, the party's 2008 nominee.

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