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Hitting back, Specter calls Sestak a ‘flagrant hypocrite’ (Updated)

Hitting back, Specter calls Sestak a ‘flagrant hypocrite’ (Updated)

Despite campaigning across the state as a “true Democrat” ready to run against Senator Arlen Specter, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7) did not register as a Democrat until shortly before running for Congress three years ago, according to voter registration records.

Specter’s campaign pointed out Sestak’s registration history, first in a message to supporters Monday, later in follow-up messages to a reporter and again in a fierce statement against Sestak Thursday. After more than two months of remaining largely silent while Sestak attacked him at every turn, the remarks amounted to Specter’s first retaliation, and turned up the heat in a Senate primary that is likely to get far more contentious in the coming months.

“Congressman Sestak is a flagrant hypocrite in challenging my being a real Democrat when he did not register as a Democrat until 2006 just in time to run for Congress,” Specter said in the statement. “His lame excuse for avoiding party affiliation, because he was in the [military] service, is undercut by his documented disinterest in the political process.”

In a statement Thursday evening, Sestak struck back at Specter for making what he called “swift-boat attacks.”

“We’ve learned today that Arlen Specter can abandon his party, but he just can’t quit making Republican swift-boat attacks on the integrity of Democrats who served in our military,” Sestak said.

He pointed out times that he had voted by absentee ballot while serving overseas, and defended his registration as an independent as fitting with his status in the military.

“Like Colin Powell (who was also registered as an Independent while he served), I believe that military officers should be nonpartisan,” Sestak said. “The military depends on cohesion and unity, and the defense of this nation must never be political.  I’m proud that I was an Independent during my 35 years in the Navy, and I was proud to register as a Democrat as soon as I retired from active duty.”

A right-to-know request filed by pa2010.com in Sestak’s home of Delaware County confirmed that Sestak did indeed register as a Democrat on February 2, 2006. The request also confirmed most of the Specter campaign’s account of how often Sestak voted in general elections, with the exception of the 1992 general election. Specter said Sestak didn’t vote then, but records show he did.

The revelations, whether or not they will matter to primary voters, mean that Specter has technically been registered as a Democrat for more total years than Sestak. Specter was a Democrat in Philadelphia decades ago before re-registering as a Republican when he won the city’s District Attorney office. Sestak has not officially declared his candidacy, but is touring the state and is increasingly seen as all but certain to challenge Specter for the nomination.

UPDATES: The full statements and Specter’s rebuttal

July 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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