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Laura Vecsey's Blog

Laura Vecsey's Blog

Middle Ground

Dem leader says Sestak should pull a Gerlach

A funny thing happened on the way to interpreting results of the new Rasmussen poll that has Democratic Senator Arlen Specter trailing Republican Pat Toomey,  49-40 percent: Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman T.J. Rooney made case for Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7) to drop out of the Democratic primary against Specter.

Rooney talked what a “good Democrat” is and said it would be “travesty to lose [Sestak] in Congress. This doesn’t seem to be the right time to do this. A lot of folks are wishing, hoping he would take a look at this.

“Arlen Specter is a good Democrat,” Rooney said. “Joe Sestak is a good Democrat—a great Democratic member of Congress. There’s a lot to respect about Joe’s beliefs, but it’s shame to have to spend precious resources we could be using in other directions. It would have been unfair six months ago to say this. That was the time to go out and test the water. But we are coming up against it. Will he defeat Arlen Specter in a primary? There’s no substantial movement in that direction.”

The willingness on the part of Rooney to suggest Sestak give up his aspiration for higher-office to instead defend his seat, a la Republican Jim Gerlach in the 6th Congressional District, was a sure sign that the post-Massachusetts Democrats are scrambling to reassess strategies. This will be necessary to hold state House, state Senate and Congressional seats in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s jolting win over Ted Kennedy’s alleged Democratic heir, Martha Coakley.

In looking at voters in Sestak’s suburban Philadelphia seat, where Sestak actually got more votes than Barack Obama in 2008, Rooney has reason for concern. Republican Pat Meehan has the party power behind him after giving up his gubernatorial aspirations.

But Sestak’s campaign said the Democratic Party’s embrace of Specter goes against Democratic principles.

“I think people are looking for someone who will put principle over politics,” campaign spokesman Gary Ritterstein said.

January 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

--Laura Vecsey

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comments [13] | post a comment

  1. David Diano

    Jan 21st, 2010

    Sounds like Rooney is stroking Sestak pretty good for a reaction (or word that rhymes with reaction). :-)

    If Rooney is talking about it that publicly, and in those terms, you can bet there is a lot of effort going into talking Sestak keeping his seat. Sestak is all but certain to lose the primary.

    This is a tough call for me and other Dems. Sestak’s got $5 million in the bank and would crush Meehan. (Meehan has to be soiling his pants over Joe coming back to defend his seat.) But, even if Sestak accepts whatever deal they are offering, Sestak’s going to have ZERO loyalty to the PA Dems that backed Specter over him in he first place, forcing the situation. So, Sestak’s going to get some payback eventually. On the plus side for his ego, he call ride in on his three stars and ‘save the day’.

    I don’t think Lentz will go quietly. He’s raised a half-million so far. So, either Sestak would get a primary challenge from Bryan, or manage to p1ss off a lot of Lentz supporters. Either way, it wouldn’t be pretty. Joe’s already shown he can’t be trusted to stick around.

    From a strictly :count of Dems in office” perspective, Bryan and Joe keeping their seats is “safe”. But, it runs the risk of everyone caving when the going gets tough, which will weaken the party even more.

    Bryan can beat Meehan, especially if Sestak turns over ALL his $5 million to 503 groups or DCCC or DNC to help out, as well as busting his ass raising money for someone other than himself, and turning over his volunteer lists.

    We got in this mess by “playing it safe” and dragging our heels on health care.

    Keeping Sestak in his seat is a short-term fix. The long term-fix is filling the seat with a real Pennsylvania Democrat.

  2. Rob

    Jan 21st, 2010

    Arlen Specter is “a good democrat?” What is Rooney smoking? Did any “good democrat” vote such a large percentage of the time to support every Republican administration since 1980? George W. Bush said that Specter always was there for him. Is that a “good democrat?” Good gosh, these people need to be tethered to reality. That’s why I don’t belong to any political party, because politicians are the least sincere people on the planet, and I put both Specter and Rooney at the head of the sorry pack. Time for them all to go. Rooney needs to get on with some productive work, and Specter needs a retirement community, preferably one to which he gave a lot of earmarks in return for what we call “political contributions” but would be considered bribes elsewhere.

  3. David Diano

    Jan 21st, 2010

    Rooney didn’t say “was” a good Democrat. He said “is”.
    Can you HONESTLY tell me that you thought Specter was comfortable in the Republican party, especially with the far-right neocons like Santorum, Toomey, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc. pushing the party even further to the Right?

    The Dems have treated Specter better than the Republicans have. He’s not stupid. He’s not a bigoted ideologue. He’s not going back to the Republicans.

    Given that he’s with us for whatever remains of his political career, he’s going to be a team player for our side. He really has no alternative.


    Jan 21st, 2010


    I look for leaders… and good democrats to lead by example. Sestak failed to help coakley, while specter directed his whole staff to as well as sent emails, because they knew healthcare could be on the line. So much for Joes principles…

    or leadership skills for that matter.

  5. Rob

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    David, You’re smoking the same stuff as Rooney. Of course Specter was comfortable as a Republican. He supported the neocons. He supported Santorum, strongly, even lending him his political staff during Santorum’s reelection campaign against Klink. Specter was a comfortable and loyal soldier. He left the Republican party because the Republicans got tired of Specter’s always voting his self interest, putting his personal survival first when he voted for the Obama financial plan. Specter’s book stridently defends his Republicanism, including his attack on Anita Hill and his support of Clarence Thomas. You are fantasizing because of your hatred of Sestak.

    Specter is not being a good party person now. He is doing what he is doing solely to generate votes in the Democratic party. That’s self-interest, not party interest.

    If enough of you are that willfully blind to Specter, you can welcome Senator Toomey in January. I am not even sure that Sestak can beat Toomey at this point, but I know that Specter can’t.

    Independents Rule!

  6. David Diano

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    In what universe was Specter’s vote for Obama’s stimulus plan in his self interest or survival? Prior to that, the GOP was going to stick with Specter because they needed his filibuster votes. They were going to keep Toomey out of the Senate race. Toomey was looking at a possible Governor’s race.
    Specter’s vote to save the economy was the responsible vote (that the other Republicans were too stupid or political to go with). That vote gave Toomey the opening to defy the party leadership, who had previously been willing to stick with Specter. The GOP primary electorate is a higher concentration of far-right kooks, since the moderates switched to the Dems (several hundred thousand). These are the people calling for ideological “purity” tests. These are the people that voted for Toomey in 2004.

    The Dems Senate candidates didn’t get excited about the race, until it looked like Toomey was going to get in and beat Specter. They were hoping to fight Toomey.
    Notice Sestak’s claim that he turned away a request by the DSCC to run in January (when it looked like Toomey wasn’t going to run). Once, Toomey got in and the polls showed Specter as weak, Sestak couldn’t wait to get in. In interviews, now Sestak claims he was “in” around April when approached again by the DSCC. (At the time, he was telling everyone publicly he wasn’t in…. so he was lying at some point.) Also, his public “indecision” was keeping candidates like Lentz from running for Congress, because they had to wait for Joe to vacate.

    Sestak further claims, that when Specter switched, the DSCC told Joe to get out, and he told them “No” and that he was running. Meanwhile, in public interviews, Sestak was claiming he hadn’t made a decision because he hadn’t yet gotten the approval of his eight year old daughter (which took until August). Another contradiction in his ever changing story.

    If you believe that Specter’s solely motivated by self-interest, then you should feel pretty confident that he’s going to be a good Democrat. He has NOWHERE else to go. The Republicans will NOT take him back. The Dems are the ONLY ones that can give him the committee assignments he wants.

    You can question Specter’s motivations all you want. His actions on behalf of Obama and the Dems speak louder than words. The Unions backed him when he was a Republican. They are backing him against Sestak. (BTW, peeling off the unions was Sestak’s only possible path to beat Specter.)

    If I thought there was a progressive Dem out there who could beat both Specter and Toomey, I’d be supporting him. Sestak’s got 4 strikes (not progressive, not really a Dem, can’t beat Specter, can’t beat Toomey).

    The BIG question is: How stubborn is Sestak? He’s going to get slaughtered by Specter. He and those around him must be able to see the writing on the wall (if they take down the wall-sized pictures of Joe at the campaign office). Would he rather stay and lose, or come back to his congressional seat with his tail between his legs?

    I wonder if he’s getting contributions from Meehan’s supporters to stay in the Senate race a few more weeks. :-)

  7. Rob

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    Specter’s calculus on the stimulus bill undoubtedly was to straddle the middle. Obama had just won Pa by a big margin and Specter at that time was planning to run as a republican the following year. He already had sold out the labor unions on card check. So he knew that he needed to show the democrats something to keep getting cross-over votes, particularly because he was counting only on another weak opponent. And, at that time, Toomey had disclaimed interest in running for Senate and was planning to run for Governor. On top of it all, Specter was able to sell his vote for earmarks that benefited some of his financial supporters (and promoted research for his own ailments). He figured that he could mollify republicans by his vote against card check (something he reversed course on yet again once he changed parties) and by some other votes, just as he straddled coming up on an election by voting against Bork but then pulling Thomas through confirmation after mangling Anita Hill.

    Specter miscalculated the Republican reaction and was surprised not only by the force of it but also by Toomey’s changing course and running for Senate instead of Governor.

    But, that’s how the stimulus vote was in his self-interest. And if you think this is in some other universe, then you are not familiar with Specter’s history.

    I am going to send Specter The Last Hurrah for his 80th Birthday.

  8. Rob

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    I should add to the above that it was Specter, not Dick Morris, who wrote the book on Triangulation. Morris was just more subtle about it, so that Clinton took positions in the middle but did not contradict himself like Specter has for the past 30 years.

    Specter cannot run from his record. And it now has caught up to him.

  9. Betty

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    Pardon me, but am I missing something here? If Sestak pulls out of the Senate race, isn’t he doing exactly what Specter is accused of–namely running away from a difficult contest? What does that say about Joe’s commitment? He decided to buck the Party leaders and engage in the Primary fight. If he backs out now, he shows himself a coward, which doesn’t bode well for his political future.

    The House race will be in good hands with Lentz who has done a good job and shown himself to be a good Democrat with a loyal constituency.

  10. David Diano

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    I disagree with your analysis of Specter’s vote for the stimulus. He pulled in Snowe and Collins, despite a lot of pressure by the GOP to halt anything Obama came up with. A lot of moderate Republicans realized the stimulus was the right vote, but were afraid to stick their necks out going against the party. Snowe and Collins weren’t trying to saddle the middle, but do the right thing.
    Toomey was going for the governor’s race, before that vote. That wasn’t the vote to keep Toomey out of the Senate race. Instead, it was the vote to avoid another Great Depression.

    As for card check, the original bill didn’t have the Dem votes to pass. Eliminating the secret ballot was a non-starter. The unions made it clear to Specter, that he would have their support in a GOP primary if he voted for EFCA (even the modified version with card-check “fixed”). So, to lay EFCA on Specter is unfair, since there were Senate Dems against it too. FoxNews and the RNC were VERY effective in their talking points about the lack of secret ballot.

    As for Specter’s record… he’s made enough good votes on social issues for Dems to hang their hat on as well as backing Obama. As for Toomey, Specter is like Van Helsing with a wooden stake and a mallet.

    Good points. Sestak overplayed his fake outrage about Specter’s voting record. Sestak’s fake outrage kept growing, despite better votes by Specter, forcing Sestak to dig into votes from last century.
    The fallacy here is that Sestak was “so upset” by Specter that he felt “compelled” to run against him. But, I’ll bet you that before Sestak decided to run for office, he never once wrote a letter of complaint to Specter’s office. I’d love to hook up Sestak to a lie-detector and find out how many times he voted to elect Specter.

    What Sestak probably doesn’t realize is that Lentz is the genuinely nice guy that Sestak only pretends to be.

  11. LooserSestak

    Jan 22nd, 2010

    Sestak simply isn’t committeed to anything but himself!

    David Diano-
    Your right-on when you say Sestak isn’t a “nice guy.”

    Also, the only thing Sestak is really outraged about is Specter’s changing parties. He thought he’d have smooth sailing to the primary.

  12. […] feathers in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman T.J. Rooney suggested that Congressman Joe Sestak follow the lead of Jim Gerlach and abandon a statewide bid in favor of running for re-election to […]

  13. Judy

    Feb 8th, 2010

    I agree with Rob, I’d like to know what Rooney is smoking too. It’s time for Rooney to go to. And it is high time for Specter to go to. He’s been there long enough. It’s time for change. Sestak!!

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