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Specter and Sestak go back-to-back with DelCo Dems

BROOMALL—Delaware County Democrats packed the Marple Public Library’s meeting room here Thursday night to hear the party’s two leading Senate candidates speak one after the other, but the event had an away-game feel for incumbent Senator Arlen Specter.

Specter, who recently became a Democrat after decades as a Republican, took his re-election campaign to the political home base of his likely rival, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7). And even as Specter sought to win over some of the most skeptical Democratic insiders he faces, Sestak continued to make it clear that his candidacy is all but certain at this point.

“I’m in this race because … it’s something I believe we all need a choice about,” Sestak said.

The Congressman got a standing ovation from his fellow Democrats as he entered the room, in sharp contrast to the measured but respectful applause for Specter.

“I could go on and on and on at great length and tell you about the Democratic values that I’ve supported” even as a Republican, Specter said.

But party insiders wanted reassurance, and over a dozen people in attendance rose to ask questions.

Their uncertainty touched upon economic issues such as health care and energy, as well as topics like sex education and judicial confirmations. And not surprisingly, they wanted to know where Specter stands on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Specter reiterated his stance that he is working hard to find a compromise on the “card-check” bill.

“I believe that the secret ballot has to be maintained,” Specter said. “I want the voter inside the curtain, doing what the voter wants.”

Sestak, who spoke after Specter, has always strongly backed the legislation, but he said he was also open to tweaking the bill if the adjustments get support from organized labor.

“If they can come up with a compromise that the unions support, I’m all for it,” he said.

Some Democrats asked the candidates where they stood on single-payer health care. Neither came out in favor, but both supported a public health insurance plan that Americans could join if they found private insurance unattainable or undesirable. It appeared to be the first time Specter has explicitly backed the public option for health care that so many of his former GOP colleagues loathe.

But despite some agreement, the differences between the two became stark, mostly centering on whether Democrats should entrust their party’s nomination to Specter, who has acknowledged he switched parties to avoid a Republican primary defeat next year.

“I don’t mind conversions,” Sestak said. “I’m a Catholic. I understand conversions. We welcome you. But the Pope doesn’t say, ‘He’s your bishop and everybody else sit down.’”

Specter, who has the support of many prominent Democrats like President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, said their endorsements didn’t amount to the final word on his candidacy.

“Should I turn down Ed Rendell’s support? Should I turn down Vice President Biden’s support? Absolutely not,” Specter said. “To say that my reason for running is that I’ve been anointed is simply not so.”

Sestak, meanwhile, sought to capitalize on the odd fit Specter makes as a Democrat, particularly based on his support for the Iraq War and former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.

Recent polling suggests that Sestak faces a rough campaign trail ahead. A Rasmussen survey earlier this week showed the Specter leading Sestak by 19 percentage points.

Nonetheless, some area Democrats, like Delaware County Democratic Party Chairman Cliff Wilson and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, who mounted a challenge to Specter’s reelection in 2004, have encouraged Sestak to run.

And polling data could bolster the idea that the Democrats don’t need the more centrist and better-known Specter to defeat Republican Pat Toomey in the general election next fall. Rasmussen has Sestak beating Toomey by six percentage points, though it has Specter edging him by 11 points.

“Either one is going to win next November, Sestak or Specter,” Wilson said. “Toomey isn’t going to Washington.”

In supporting Sestak, state Representative Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) said the Congressman could eventually acquire something close to the elevated public stature Specter has gained after almost three decades in the Senate.

“I think by the time this race is over, they will know [Sestak] in the coffee shops of Erie, Pennsylvania,” Vitali said. “He has that kind of energy. My money’s on Joe.”

June 19, 2009 at 1:17 am

--Bradley Vasoli

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comments [23] | post a comment

  1. David Diano

    Jun 19th, 2009

    I was at the meeting. The demeanor of the two couldn’t have been more different.

    Specter was on time and Sestak was late.

    Specter came with professional staffers who took down concerns of constituents to get back to them. Sestak came in as a lone wolf.

    Specter got asked some tough questions and was humble about mistakes he made and his need to reach out to us. Sestak got lobbed softballs all night and expressed fake outrage about how Specter’s nomination was an anointment.

    Specter answered 17 questions (more like 20-25 with two-part questions and debate) in a clear concise manner. Sestak answered less than 10, and droned on and on with his usual patter and hollow, pointless stories and a mind-numbing rattling off of statistics.

    Sestak won the award for sheer audacity. He actually tried to act like Obama copied Sestak’s 2006 campaign themes, as though Joe though of them first. Joe made even more comparisons of himself with Obama regarding experience. Sestak actually said, “Well, there are some people that didn’t think Obama had enough experience either.”

    Yeah. Joe was one of those criticizing Obama’s experience when he backed Hillary. Joe was a very early “super” delegate anointing Hillary.

    Sestak criticized Specter’s vote for the Iraq War (same vote that Hillary made). Sestak ignored BOTH of his OWN votes to give Bush a blank check on the war without timetables or accountability.

    On card check, I was sitting next to a union rep who told me that Sestak was already backing the compromise card check bill before the vote on the original version. So, to that union rep, Sestak wasn’t fully on board in the first place.

    Sestak likes to brag about his congressional office. He works the people there like slaves. Long days, seven-days a week for months on end without vacations or holidays. Sestak the kind of employer that unions fight.

    What I took away from the meeting is that Specter is a class act who knows his stuff and Sestak’s still a punk and an amateur.

  2. John

    Jun 19th, 2009

    “But the Pope doesn’t say, ‘He’s your bishop and everybody else sit down.’”

    News for Congressman Sestak: that is exactly what the Pope says. I’m Catholic too, and probably citing the Catholic Church for his own personal anti-establishment message is not the best idea.

  3. Tony Campisi

    Jun 19th, 2009

    I think perhaps Mr. Diano attended a different meeting than I did. Both candidates performed admirably and answered the questions put to them. Sen. Specter did not take many follow up questions because after he briefly answered the question he immediately looked to the next questioner and moved on so there could not be any follow up. And Mr. Diano conveniently left out who got the standing ovation….twice. It wasnt the Senator.

    Specter’s a class act? What qualifies as a class act? Abandoning his political party after 44 years for the sole reason that he wants to lengthen his string of electoral victories? Bragging about campaigning for JFK, then abandoning JFK’s party for that of Goldwater and Nixon? His questioning of Anita Hill? His statement that “he won’t be a loyal Democrat?”

    And really….coming onto a website and calling your Congressman a punk? Maybe its time for Mr. Diano to find a new ax to grind. Talk about a broken recod…..

  4. RadnorGreen

    Jun 19th, 2009


    I was there last night and Tony Campisi could not have said it better.

    For those who read this web-site, Tony Campisi is the respected Vice-Chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party (“DELCO Dems”) Tony is slated to become Chairman of the DELCO Dems next year when current Chairman Cliff Wilson retires.

    Tony has endorsed Congressman Sestak, which I whole-heartedly concur with.

  5. Mary

    Jun 19th, 2009

    I live in Joe Sestak’s District and was a big supporter of Barack Obama and got to work for the Obama team in Media, PA. Joe never criticized Barack Obama about his “lack of experience”.

    At the Obama headquarters we actually were impressed by Joe when he was campaigning for Hillary because he was always positive about both candidates and would then express why he was supporting Hillary. Joe was one of the few elected Democrats last year that never engaged in trashing other presidential candidates.

    Every time we heard Joe on MSNBC, or in the District when there were Clinton rallies he spoke at (yes we spied on our rivals), Joe was upbeat about both candidates making excellent presidents and then would give his reasons for supporting Hillary. After Hillary dropped out, Joe was anywhere and everywhere we needed him to be for our Obama events. He campaigned just as hard for Barack Obama as he did for Hillary.

    And oh yeah, the reason I call my Congressman by his first name, “Joe”, is because if you ever meet him and say “Congressman”, he always says “call me Joe”. How cool is that!!!!

  6. David Diano

    Jun 20th, 2009

    Here’s the story right here, with a nice picture of Joe and Hillary:
    “Clinton Launches Assault on Obama’s Foreign Policy Experience
    Dems Fear Clinton’s Increasingly Aggressive Attacks Give McCain More Ammo”

    That’s the infamous press conference where Hillary proclaimed: “Sen. McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign; I will bring a lifetime of experience; and Sen. Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002″

    Joe was also campaigning for Hillary in New Hampshire on election day Nov 2007, when he should have been in his district working the polls for his party. Sestak was AWOL.

    Of course Joe was helping with Obama. the second Hillary lost. He’s an opportunist.

    Sestak has a very polished “public” side, but behind closed doors, it’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

    I have tremendous respect for you as a Democrat and the work you are doing for the party in general and the Delco Dems specifically.
    I run into plenty of people that have a similar opinion or experience with Sestak as I do. The difference is that I’m not running for any offices and I don’t have kiss his ass and hope he’ll help me out.
    Now, that’s not to say that Sestak does not have genuine supporters. He does. However, many of them are short-sighted about the overall harm Sestak has doing, and is doing, to the Democratic party.

    1) He’s drained money, people, and resources from the district without sharing or giving back to the committees, candidates and party.
    Other than Bryan Lentz (who stepped aside for Joe in 2006), we haven’t gained any legislative seats in Sestak’s district. In 2006, his Field Director (coordinator?) told me she couldn’t care less if every Dem candidate in Joe’s district lost, as long as Joe won. (So much for the credo “Leave no man behind”).

    2) Just because Sestak is a better congressman that that turkey Curt Weldon, doesn’t give Joe a free pass. A dead cat would be better than Weldon.

    3) Sestak may be to the Left of Specter, but he’s not that far to the left that it is worth $4 million donated for the 7th district that won’t get spent to put a Dem in. It’s not worth tens of millions for a primary fight that will leave both candidates damaged. It’s not worth losing Delaware and a half dozen other Senate races where that money could be put to use to give the Dems a 63 majority.

    Sestak appears to be following his own blind ambitions rather than the good of the party.

    I’m a voter and a taxpayer. I want to fire Joe and replace him with a better Congressman. I don’t want him as my Senator, either.

  7. Bill Blacker

    Jun 20th, 2009

    Standard David Diano. Bashing Sestak for no reason. I believe Diano was kicked out of the Sestak camp in 2006 because he was worthless. Now he complains and complains and misquotes.

    (Note in the article he linked to there was not a single quote from Joe Sestak)

    Diano distorts and misinforms to paint a terrible picture of a great man. His slander is not tolerated anywhere but the comment boards of various (mostly pa2010) blogs. Believe what you will, but for gods sake, believe anyone but Dave Diano. Dont take my word for it…ask around, the guy is a troll.

  8. David Diano

    Jun 20th, 2009

    Hi. I don’t believe we’ve met. Is Sestak even your congressman? I get the sense you aren’t in the 7th district.

    I was never “kicked out” of the 2006 campaign. I set up the office computers and provided computer services and troubleshooting for months in my spare time (occasionally taking off time from my regular job). I was never part of the paid staff (nor did I ever ask to be). Once the Sestak campaign got going and staffed, I spent my time helping other campaigns, doing some canvassing for the ticket, tying up Weldon people on the blogs, supporting my local committees, and working the polls election day.

    As late as April 2007, I backed Sestak to the hilt when he spoke at that CAIR event and he was begin attacked by Dem Jewish groups and GOP anti-Islamic groups.
    I didn’t oppose Sestak until May (6 months after the election) when he voted to give Bush a blank check for the Iraq War (in violation of the principles of accountability he campaigned on).

    At that time, I sent the campaign a letter asking to be removed from all further mailings and refusing to donate any more money. Despite that, a few weeks later, Joe’s brother called me personally to ask me to come to their offices to fix a network printer. Of course, I declined.

    As 2007 wore on, Sestak and his campaign disappointed my further with their refusal to share volunteer information with local Dem committees to help in the 2007 elections. When I asked Joe’s brother if Joe would HOST some fundraisers for us, his brother’s reply was:
    “Why should he? It’s not his contest. No one here did anything for him.”

    That’s a direct quote. It came minutes after a speech where Joe publicly praised the efforts of the local Dems in getting him elected. Actions speak louder than words, and Joe’s actions are those of a self-serving politician, not a loyal or appreciative Democrat.

    As for the article, didn’t you see Joe’s picture there with Hillary? Did Joe chime in and say, “Sorry, Hillary, but I do think Obama is ready to lead and be my Commander in Chief.”? Umm.. No.
    Joe was there as a military prop to emphasize Hillary’s infamous point. Joe was one of the super-delegates anointing Hillary in 2007 and was himself anointed by Rendell in 2006.

    Joe likes to say how there aren’t kings or king-makers, but Joe struts around like he’s the crown prince who deserves his own throne and is dismissive of those who don’t bow down before him.

    Lot’s of people do think Joe is a great man. I’ve met him and seen the man behind the curtain, so I firmly convinced he is not so great.

    But more importantly, even if you think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, his Senate run will be damaging to the party. It will be a waste of money, it will risk the loss of PA-7 back to the GOP, it will divert resources from more important Senate races where we can pick up a seat, and it’s a fools errand that provides ammunition to the GOP. Joe is at the conservative end of the Dem party, and the difference between him and Specter is NOT worth tens of millions of dollars, a house seat, and several other senate seats. It’s really that simple.

    If Sestak has announced back in Jan or Feb, Specter may never have switched over. But, Joe didn’t (and he still hasn’t gotten off the pot and made it official). At this point, I want him to announce and get it over with so we, in the 7th, can get to work on his replacement.

    I strongly advise concerned Democrats not to waste their money on this Primary race, and focus on the BIG picture, rather than the distraction and division that Sestak is causing to satisfy his own ego and sense of entitlement.

  9. Jon Geeting

    Jun 20th, 2009

    Look at the party hacks coming to pa2010 to lay astroturf comments, that is fake grassroots support for Specter. The real grassroots aren’t having any of it. Specter is not going back to Washington. This is going to be Lamont-Lieberman all over again, only this time, the netroots candidate will prevail. We elect politicians to get policy results, not because they have the support of the clubby insiders. Specter will have to campaign hard on some reason other than not being able to get reelected in the Republican primary.

  10. David Diano

    Jun 21st, 2009

    I’m not part of any grassroots support for Specter. Rather, I’d like to see the Left have a “grassroots” awakening to the BIG picture and phoniness of Sestak’s fake outrage.

    The BIG picture is that a PA Senate Primary will be a colossal waste of time, money and resources that could be put to better use in other more critical races (regardless of who wins).

    Sestak is trying to convince people that the “anointing” of Specter is so unique and unprecedented that for Joe it is a call to arms and gets his blood boiling until he cries out for justice and thus, he feels compelled to act to save us all (.. or some similar histrionic argument).

    Of course, this is total BS. Sestak had obviously planned this run for months with some carefully laid roll out strategy that went to hell the moment Specter switched, and forced Joe to regroup and pretend that he has some higher calling. (gag)

    Does anyone recall Sestak asking Bryan Lentz to stay in the 2006 Primary race after Rendell talked Lentz out of it? How about the Casey primary? The party machine backed Casey as the candidate to unseat Santorum and Sestak didn’t make a peep.

    I am I “fan” of Specter? Not really. Was I impressed with how he handled himself Thursday night? Yes.
    Has Specter expended political capital (to the point of GOP suicide) to be the swing vote for the Dems on key issues? Absolutely.

    Specter’s still got to deliver on the votes during the next year. But if he holds up his end, I can reward him with my vote (as will the Unions).
    Sestak’s votes on the Iraq War and the funding of Cheney’s office proved (to me) that he can’t be trusted with a two-year House term, let alone a six-year Senate term.
    His abusive handling of his staff and explosive temper will likely prevent him from attracting and/or retaining the “best of the best”, which is much more critical in the Senate.

    Finally, Sestak hasn’t demonstrated sufficient party loyalty nor a willingness to “pay his dues”. He’s laughably trying to compare himself to Obama (who has paid his political dues by putting in about two decades of progressive leadership from the community level on up).

    I noticed the first hints of Sestak’s dissatisfaction with being a Congressman when he voted for the Iraq War blank check, and was criticized (and protested) by the anti-war peace movement that worked hard for his initial election. Joe didn’t like being questioned and threatened that if people didn’t like his votes then maybe he wouldn’t run for re-election.

    It was a few months afterward that I noticed Sestak was heavily involved and working his tail off for the Hillary campaign (at one event I overheard him remark how they even sent him off to Nevada). The belief among myself and others was that this was Joe’s escape route from Congress (and irate constituents and campaigning) to a cushy appointment. Clinton’s defeat cut-off that escape route.

    I was all in favor of keeping him stuck in Congress and chaffing against the limits of a job he claimed to love, as a fitting punishment. However, now, Sestak is apparently going to make the leap into oblivion by leaving his seat for a failed Senate run. It’s a two-fer!

    Run Joe Run! Please.

  11. shizzy

    Jun 21st, 2009

    I don’t think it’s fake outrage. Among my democratic friends we don’t feel like we owe it to Specter to vote for him. The 6 of us in my little un-scientific study felt like Specter was turning this into a game, and was barely even a dem. We ourselves were actually outraged, and I have no doubt that Sestak is mad. First Specter avoids a sure loss thinking he’ll walk all over Sestak and then the White House tries to run Sestak out? I’d be pissed too!

  12. David Diano

    Jun 21st, 2009

    I DO think that Sestak is mad, but not because of his concern for us. Rather, he’s mad because this upset his plans. Before Specter switched, Sestak had 5 times the money of any of the other Dems interested in a run. It would have been a cakewalk for him to become the front runner early on, and not have to worry about spending much money in a primary, and having the support of the establishment fundraisers. Instead, he’s got to bust his hump raising millions of dollars that will get pissed away in a primary, and he doesn’t have the big guns helping him raise it.

    That’s a lot of work, pressure and aggravation for a guy that already has a short fuse.

    As for “owing” Specter a vote, I’m saying at this stage that he’s owed anything more than us keeping an open mind. However, if he votes the right way this coming year and lives up to his end, I feel he will have EARNED my vote.

    Sestak LOST my vote when he supported Bush and Cheney in key votes that were contrary to his 2006 campaign. I would love to have had “Campaign Joe” in Congress. Instead, we got “Politician Joe” that broke faith with us and never admits to making mistakes or offers apologies.

    Rendell makes a good case for how Specter has helped the Dems, and specifically help Pennsylvanians over the years. Specter defended himself well and answered his critics directly

    Much as Specter is interested in keeping his job, I do think that he believes he does a good job for Pennsylvania and as a moderate Senator who bridges the bipartisan gap on key legislation.

    I haven’t seen Sestak pulling the Blue Dogs over to our side, but rather his votes with the GOP have given the Blue Dogs political cover.

  13. Who's Your Daddy

    Jun 22nd, 2009

    The best part about this is watching Specter bending to Sestak’s gravity/gravitas.

    Yah think Specter would be doing all this if Sestak had not announced his intention to get into the race?

    Who’s your daddy, bitch?

  14. David Diano

    Jun 22nd, 2009

    Actually, yes. Specter would be doing the same thing.

    Before Sestak starting making noise about challenging Specter, the Senate Dems stripped Specter’s seniority when he started making some GOP noises after the switch. Specter’s tune changed immediately. It was very clear that the restoration of his seniority would occur when he got reelected, IF he stayed in line.

    Sestak is trying to take credit and make it sound like he’s the one pulling Specter to the Left. Actually, Joe’s been the one drifting to the Right to appeal to the conservative voters outside of his district. So, Specter is actually the one making Sestak tack to the Left temporarily.

    If you look at Sestak’s voting record, there are a ton of warning flags: blank check on Iraq (twice), warrant-less wiretaps, and telecom immunity.

    His record is also sparse because he’s a one-term congressman and there are MANY hot button issues he hasn’t even voted on yet. Sestak’s a BIG unknown on these issues. We can’t trust any campaign promises he makes, because he completely betrayed the peace-movement that worked on his 2006 campaign.

    Arlen’s not the greatest Senator, but at least you know what you are getting.

  15. Jack

    Jun 22nd, 2009

    “Arlen’s not the greatest Senator, but at least you know what you are getting.”

    If this is what our democracy has come to, it’s a sad day. Primaries aren’t about the money or the resources, they are about the conversations you have at dinner with old friends or people at work about our state. Anointing Arlen robs us of that.

    With so much at stake in the next few years in PA and across the country, I’ll take a chance on a guy with a good, even if shorter record (even including the one issue, funding the armed services, that you keep citing) over a guy who is being forced to act like someone he’s not (and won’t be unless he’s) under pressure to be elected.

    Specter has done a fine job, but we get everything he votes for and more with Sestak. Time for a change and not worth the risk of having a Republican in the statehouse selecting a new Republican to send to the Senate.

  16. David Diano

    Jun 22nd, 2009

    My point with the “you know what you are getting” was a reaction to Sestak’s recent talking point that Specter’s a flight risk. Specter has ALWAYS straddled the fence and managed to represent both the liberals and conservatives in PA.

    Based on what I’ve seen so far of Sestak’s campaign promises versus his voting record, to me, he’s the bigger flight risk. We know where Arlen is and the direction he is heading. Specter has won, election after election because Dems have voted for him and KNOW that he works hard for PA.

    BTW, it’s NOT that he voted to fund the armed services. The problem is that he campaigned SPECIFICALLY on timetables or similar form of accountability attached to the money. It was his JOB as a Congressman to exercise oversight and demand that war was conducted and fund conditional upon benchmarks and methods of measuring success. He FAILED COMPLETELY at this key issue, which was the MAIN reason he was elected.
    How about Telecom immunity and warrant-less wiretaps? Sestak has shown clear tendencies toward overreaching Executive power without accountability. This is NOT the proper role of the legislative branch in a system of checks and balances. Sestak just doesn’t get it.

    Over the years, Specter’s the one that been running into a wall whenever he’s tried to move to the Left. That wall has now been removed, and Specter is able to move toward his more natural tendencies.

    BTW, did you catch the story about how Specter backed restoration of the Clean Water act (and our other Democratic Senator, Bob Casey has been silent on the bill).

    Just more evidence that Specter, when freed of the Right-wing pressure of the past decades, is finding his equilibrum here towards the Left.

  17. Jack

    Jun 23rd, 2009

    Your implications on those specific votes being true or false really isn’t even the issue here because at the end of the day, Specter voted for those two. He also ushered along the Bush tax cuts and facilitated a whole list of other policies. Look at Arlen’s voting record before his last election. Look at how he campaigned in 2004.

    It’s a disgrace that we’re talking about the guy who campaigned with ads like this 6 years ago: & then made ads like this for other people in 2008: is now asking to have my vote of confidence in 2010 to carry out the important progressive initiatives that this country needs.

    I can’t trust Specter and I think he’s not moving past a wall to naturally be more progressive, but pandering to the left to get elected because he couldn’t do it with the right.

    I think we’re all smarter than to be duped by Arlen once again.

  18. John

    Jun 23rd, 2009

    People called Arlen Specter a bad Republican. People will probably call him a bad Democrat, too.

    But it’s not too often that you hear people call him a bad Senator.

    Party affiliation aside, I think Arlen has done a good job for Pennsylvania.

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