Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sestak says Obama can’t talk him out of a Senate run

(h/t Pa2010) Sestak says Obama can’t talk him out of a Senate run:

Sestak also said that he wouldn’t back off even if the major unions reached a deal with Specter on health care and on the Employee Free Choice Act and endorsed Specter in the primary.... Sestak added that even if he didn’t get the big unions, he’d still corral some labor support.

“My belief is that there will be a number of unions that still wouldn’t be for Arlen,” he said. ....And in an ironic twist, Sestak also revealed that a few months ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election — and that it showed Sestak winning.

Wash Post analyst: Poll should provoke 'outright alarm' for Specter; Pa. analyst: Sestak will need $10 million for primary

(h/t P-G Early Returns) Washington Post's Cillizza: at this early stage of the race, poll should provoke "outright alarm" for Specter

Pundit Madonna: Primary no ‘cakewalk’ for Specter, Sestak will need $10 million for primary (at last report, he had $3 million)

Op-ed by Tony Campisi, 1st vice chair of the Delaware County Dem Party (Sestak's district): Unlike Specter, Sestak stands for something

Worth noting - the Obama fundraiser in L.A. that Specter attended was for the Democratic National Committee -- *not* for Specter. Yes, Specter will probably reap some good fundraising contacts from having been there, but the $3 million fundraiser itself was *not* for him.

Sestak leaves a SMALL doubt about Senate run

From Post-Gazette Early Returns transcript of Sestak appearance on CNN:

"Wolf, I personally have made a decision that I intend to get in this race with one other item. I haven't sat down and had the time to sit down with my 8-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in.

And I say that, if you don't mind, because when I got in this after getting out of the military 31 years in the first race two years ago, my daughter had a brain tumor. And we needed to make sure we were getting in this to pay back for this great health care we have been given, together, as a unit. And so that's where the final decision will be made, with us as a nuclear family."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New poll shows Sestak in better position

(h/t Pa2010) The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports on a new poll:

New Poll Shows Specter Support Soft: A new survey of Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters funded by a labor-aligned 527 group shows that while Sen. Arlen Specter starts any primary race as a favorite, there is significant weakness in his numbers. Specter leads Rep. Joe Sestak, who continues to mull a primary bid, 55 percent to 34 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted for Citizens for Strength and Security by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. But, not only is Sestak known by just three in ten Democrats in the state (suggesting room for real growth), many Democrats are taking a wait and see approach to Specter. ....

Organized labor, which provided nearly all of the funding for Citizens for Strength and Security during the 2008 election, remains skeptical about Specter due to his stated opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. With a re-written version of that bill expected in the next month or two, this poll is meant as a warning to the newest Democrat that straying too far from party orthodoxy could cost him dearly.

TPM Scoop: Sestak's Running

Talking Points Memo has the scoop:

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is privately telling supporters that he intends to run for Senate, TPMDC has confirmed.
"He intends to get in the race," says Meg Infantino, the Congressman's sister, who works at Sestak for Congress. "In the not too distant future, he will sit down with his wife and daughter to make the final decision." ...
Earlier today, a Sestak volunteer and contributor received a handwritten note from Sestak himself, announcing his intent to run and asking for a contribution. The source provided TPMDC a scan of the letter....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Specter's Seniority: the Lautenberg precedent is bad; Stabenow says 'this is midstream'

Politico has a new article today about Sen. Specter's seniority and potential party-switchers. (Yep, I focus on the seniority issue a lot, because it equals POWER and ability to bring home bacon.)

Some key excerpts:

Asked last week if he would have switched parties if he knew that he would lose his seniority, Specter smiled slyly and said only: “Well, I think we’ll get that straightened out.”
If he wins a sixth term next year, Specter remains confident he will win back his seniority at the start of the 112th Congress, but there are no guarantees when the Democratic Caucus debates the issue after the November 2010 elections. ...
senior Democrats insist this won’t be a problem in the future. They said Specter’s case was unique, given that he switched parties in the middle of a Congress strictly to preserve his chance at winning reelection next year — unlike the case of Shelby and other party defectors who switched before the start of a new Congress, enabling them to be part of the usual seniority shuffle when a new session begins.
“This is midstream,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, which advises Reid on committee assignments. “The real question will come up in the next Congress.” ...
And Specter’s case is not the first time a senior member of the Senate has lost his seniority. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) returned to the Senate after the 2002 elections — after retiring from a 19-year career in the Senate following the 2000 elections. Lautenberg tried in vain to have all his years of service counted so he could rejoin committees at a very senior level, and he was denied.

Also newsworthy today:

Sen. Specter supports Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Sen. Specter officially switched his party registration.

Sestak: 'Odds are great' he will run

Sestak fans, you may get your wish, according to what he told the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend:

Sestak said he was "leaning very much toward getting in" the race... Sestak said he would make up his mind in the next couple of months, adding that "odds are great" he will opt to run. ..."Arlen's a good guy and he's done good things in the past, but I'm not sure he's the one to bring about change," Sestak said yesterday. "I can't see how someone who's been opposed to some of these policies can be relied upon to carry them out" through 2016.

WITF public radio in Harrisburg covers Young Philly Politics' Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg wanting Sestak to get in.

Meanwhile, Sen. Specter's only declared Democratic opponent gets what Pa2010 calls a "fawning" profile in CQ. (At this writing, CQ hasn't corrected what I emailed them about this morning -- that PA has 203 state House districts, not 151.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Politico: Pa. Dems slow to accept Specter

Interesting article at Politico today: Pa. Dems slow to accept Specter

Some excerpts:

But if Allegheny County is in any way representative of the rest of the state, Specter will have his work cut out persuading rank-and-file Democrats to get behind him.
“Voters have to get to a comfort level with him as a Democrat that does not exist yet,” Burn said. “If the primary were tomorrow and there were one or two other formidable contenders in the race, I wouldn’t say with any certainty that he would win.”
Evidence of that uncertainty surfaced after a recent Specter event at a downtown Philadelphia law firm. Stephanie Singer, a local ward leader there, said that after watching Specter take questions from some of the roughly 40 people who attended, she still had a question of her own. ...
“I asked him whether he was proud of the way he had questioned Anita Hill,” Singer said. “I was curious to know if he had really learned anything about what that issue is and why it makes women so angry.”
Singer said that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with his response and that she had not been won over by Specter that night. ...
“There are people out there that he’s going to have to work a little,” Cordisco said. “There are some real true believers who think that [GOP Senate candidate Pat] Toomey could be beat by pretty much any Democrat.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More on Sestak's record; More Specter reaction; Psst - what about public option in health care?

First, from the Tribune-Review, more on Sestak's record and labor dissatisfaction with Specter:

Sestak, a former defense counterterrorism expert, sponsored legislation to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, but voted against cutting appropriations as a way to end the war. And although he supported the bank bailout and the economic stimulus plan, he recently voted against bills limiting executive compensation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Sestak 60 percent on its issues in 2007, compared with 82 percent for Specter. The AFL-CIO gave Specter a 68 percent rating in 2007, and Sestak a 96 percent rating for his votes on organized labor's priorities.

The story also contains this:

Labor leaders are pressing Specter for his failure to support the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as card check. The legislation would have made it easier for labor unions to organize.
"Arlen drove labor's support away from himself over the last three or four weeks," said Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea. "The rank and file are mad, not only in Western Pennsylvania but also in Eastern Pennsylvania and Central Pennsylvania. They are upset."
Shea said it's too early to say which candidate organized labor would support, but that it would be a mistake to dismiss Sestak, who supports card check.
"I think his stock has risen since Specter came over to the D side, if for no other reason than he's getting a lot more play nationally. ... I think he's a strong candidate," Shea said.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports on Specter's visit to the Democratic Party's Philadelphia pre-election-day fundraiser. Apparently he was "warmly" received by many there. However, Tony Rhodin at the Easton Express-Times fired off a blast Monday night, titled "Arlen Specter not a Democrat, so why would Democrats vote for this Republican? Won't another Dem give us a choice?"

Interesting story at Politico about Specter's fundraising:
He has a lot of work ahead of him. He’s raised about $9 million for his reelection campaign next year and has about $7 million in the bank. Given the cost of recent Keystone State Senate races, he’ll need at least another $10 million and more if he winds up with a Democratic primary challenger, said Jennifer Duffy, an expert on Senate races at the Cook Political Report.

Speaking of fundraising, the organizers of the recent "Draft Sestak" online straw poll announced today the creation of a "Draft Sestak Fund" page on ActBlue.

Worth noting that there's also an ActBlue page for Joe Torsella (who has already announced for Senate).

Still waiting to hear from Congressman Sestak and Mr. Torsella where they stand on the hugely important question of including a public option in the universal health care bill, as President Obama wants. (Meanwhile, Sen. Specter recently hinted at a leftward shift on that crucial question.) More about public option here and here.

The Washington Post reports that a 2004 ad Santorum did for Specter ("Arlen is with us on the votes that matter") is making the rounds in D.C.

Specter hints at leftward shift on health care; Casey not slamming door on a primary

Doing a roundup tonight..

Daily Kos' take on Specter hinting at a leftward shift on health care -- looks like the pressure of a possible primary is starting to work.

(CNN) – Pennsylvania’s junior Sen. Bob Casey appeared to open the door Sunday for a possible challenger to Arlen Specter, the state’s senior senator and a newly-minted Democrat.

Post-Gazette Early Returns covers the results of the progressives' online SestakPoll:

Should U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak run against Arlen Specter in the Dem primary next year, he may have a good portion of the party's netroots behind him: in an online poll tied to major leftwing blogs DailyKos and Open Left, 86 percent of voters nationwide and 85 percent statewide said the formal Navy admiral should make a run against the incumbent. There were 7,501 votes cast nationwide and 949 in Pa.

Keystone Progress' latest email encourages Pennsylvanians to contact Sen. Specter and urge him to support the Senate version of the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights that passed the House 357-70 recently.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

(UPDATED) Feinstein, Specter compromises may pave the way for passage of Employee Free Choice Act

UPDATE: Skepticism is showing up in a DailyKos recommended diary today about how good this deal really is.

(h/t GrassrootsPA) Jane Hamsher says at Huffington Post:

New compromise measures supported by Dianne Feinstein and Arlen Specter may pave the way for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
With 900,000 union members in the state of Pennsylvania, the Arlen Specter firewall appears to be crumbling. He knows he can't win a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania without labor, and they have made it clear that their support is contingent on his vote on Employee Free Choice.

... As Harkin says, the Feinstein compromise has the advantage of "protecting the secret ballot, so people can do it in private," which neutralizes that particular right-wing criticism of the bill.
The other bone of contention has been arbitration clause of the Employee Free Choice Act. Specter himself supports "last best offer" arbitration. It's also called "baseball arbitration," and has incentives to get both parties to quickly make their best, most reasonable offer. Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO says "we're open to that."

Mystery solved? 'PrimaryArlenSpecter' site expands

Note that the posting (excerpted below) that's on DailyKos today doesn't actually say Evan Miller and his New Argument co-founder are responsible for the anonymous site, but it suggests that. (Here's my initial post about this, from Thursday.)

TAKE ACTION: Tell Specter to give cancer research money back!
by evandmiller [Subscribe]
Share this on Twitter - TAKE ACTION: Tell Specter to give cancer research money back!

Sat May 09, 2009 at 11:24:54 AM PDT
Adam Green did great work coining the term cancer-gate to describe Arlen Specter tricking the public into thinking they were funding cancer research when really they were funding his 2010 reelection campaign.
It seems that Specter will do anything to get reelected.
Join myself and Andrew Perez, founders of The New Argument in demanding that Specter give that money to its rightful recipients - an organization that actually works to advance medical research.
Sign the letter at
While you there, go to to tell specter to support a public healthcare plan!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Health care - HHS secretary makes clear: It would be a public OPTION, not a takeover

From the Los Angeles Times:

Obama backs public and private healthcare insurance
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tells Congress that the administration wants to create a government-run program to encourage competition.
The Obama administration's senior healthcare official Wednesday flatly rejected the idea of taking overthe nation's medical insurance system, saying the federal government did not want to assume management of healthcare coverage....
Sebelius responded that states for years had offered their government employees a choice between a public insurance program and a private plan for healthcare coverage.
"It can work very effectively, and does work very effectively," she said, indicating that such arrangements could be a model for overhauling insurance markets nationally.

Also, from the Associated Press today:
Sources: Senators weigh 3 government health plans

President Barack Obama and many Democrats say a government option would serve as a check to keep the private insurance industry honest. ...

The three approaches being discussed are:
_Create a plan that resembles Medicare, administered by the Health and Human Services department.
_Adopt a Medicare-like plan, but pick an outside party to run it. That way government officials would not directly control the day-to-day operations.
_Leave it up to individual states to set up a public insurance plan for their residents.

And this part jumps out at me -- boldface added:

If the public plan were open to all employers and individuals — and if it paid doctors and hospitals the same as Medicare — it would quickly grow to 131 million members, while enrollment in private insurance plans would plummet, the study found.
By paying Medicare rates the government plan would be able to set premiums well below what private plans charge. Employers and individuals would rush to sign up.


And here's a quick check of where major Democratic PA Senate candidates or potential candidates stand on the public option:

Senator Specter: Opposed (for now)

Congressman Sestak: Reportedly 'unsure'

Joe Torsella: We're awaiting his response

MoveOn video: 'Tell Senator Specter to Side With Us, Not The Banks'

(h/t GrassrootsPA) You can see the video and read the script here.

Coverage of progressive interest in challenging Specter; Ridge declines to back Toomey

The Allentown Morning Call and WITF public radio from Harrisburg cover the growing progressive "Hey, wait a minute" and even "Draft Sestak" or "back Torsella" movements.

Tom Ridge declines to say if he'd vote for Toomey over Specter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Daily Kos poll of PA Senate race; Roundup of other developments

If you haven't seen it yet, Daily Kos commissioned a PA poll and two key findings are:

... only 37 percent of Democrats are definitely committed to Specter.

Specter (D) 55 Toomey (R) 31
Sestak (D) 37 Toomey (R) 32
Torsella (D) 35 Toomey (R) 33
Even the guys who no one has ever heard of are beating Toomey.

No wonder the White House is reportedly concerned.

You've probably also seen that Ridge decided not to run. Smart move.

One more "in case you missed it": Politico reports some are questioning the propriety of Sen. Specter's other campaign site that's named "Specter for the Cure." (Of course, cancer patients would also benefit from having a public option in health care.)

Several states have already passed laws like the Employee Free Choice Act and the sky hasn't fallen

Nathan Newman of TPMCafe and Progressive States Network reports that several states have already passed laws like the Employee Free Choice Act and the sky hasn't fallen -- including 4 of the 6 that border Pennsylvania. He concludes:

So you've got one system -- NLRB elections with a demonstrated history of massive, overwhelming employer abuse -- and another system -- majority signup operating in many states with no evidence of any of the abuses alleged by opponents. If it works in the states, why not bring its benefits to more employes?

Pa2010 reports today on rumors that Joe Torsella is resisting efforts to have him become head of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. His spokesman told Pa2010 Torsella's interest "is in running for U.S. Senate."

A New York Times article today has quotes from several senators (different ones from the ones in the Politico story), to this effect:
Several senators said they felt badly for Mr. Specter and several voiced compassion.

(Of course, that's not the same as saying, "Sure, we'll let you go ahead of us with your 29 years of Republican seniority.")

Dem senators cast doubt on Specter seniority restoration

Politico reports today:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) may not regain his three decades of seniority even if he wins his Senate seat as a Democrat, robbing him of a key argument he’s making in his 2010 reelection campaign.

The article has quotes from Sens. Durbin, Mikulski, Murray and Landrieu, among others, either saying some version of "not so fast, Sen. Specter" or "we'll see."

Yes, Sen. Specter is getting a Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship, and the Associated Press calls it a "plum" and "the Judiciary Committee's busiest subcommittee, responsible for legislation on drug sentencing."
On the other hand, Politico calls his subcommittee post "a minor consolation."

Here's my take: Judiciary isn't the committee that lets a senator bring home the bacon. Appropriations is. And as of now, he's still the least senior Dem on the Appropriations Committee.

And THIS, from the Politico story, is eyebrow-raising (and unlikely to help him with the other Democratic senators):

But Specter didn’t promise to vote with Democrats on all procedural votes, as Reid said he would on national television a day before. “I will talk to Sen. Reid about that,” Specter said.

Who's behind mystery 'PrimaryArlenSpecter' site that focuses on health care reform?

I received an e-mail today letting me know about a "Primary Arlen Specter" site that is collecting names and e-mails of people who support including a public option in health care reform. The site says the following:
When we reach 5,000 signatures, we will hand deliver this letter to the office of Senator Arlen Specter.

It doesn't say who's behind it. I ran a whois search, but the site's registration is private.

(Oh, and I've saved two screen captures of the page in case it were to disappear.)

(And I'm not anonymous -- see this post from yesterday. :-)

Phila. Daily News editorial outlines the case for public option in health care reform

Senator Specter and challengers, listen up! :-)

An editorial in today's Philadelphia Daily News does a good job making the case for a public option in health care reform:

So at the least, Americans should have a choice between private insurers and what has been dubbed a "public option" - a Medicare-style program or even something along the lines of the federal employees' insurance system, which is administered through private insurers but paid for by the government.
The key is to provide a program that doesn't divert significant amounts of premiums to CEO salaries, administrative costs, shareholder dividends - and financial incentives to deny you care.

It's fascinating to watch private insurers scramble to head off actual reform: Now, they promise, they will be good: They will no longer discriminate against people because of pre-existing conditions. They won't charge women higher premiums. Regulate us, they plead, just don't make us compete. But private insurers would have to be regulated in ways never seen before to repair the system. Competition might force changes no politician could.

Pgh. Post-Gazette Covers Specter Seniority Loss

Here are some key excerpts of the article from Thursday's Post-Gazette:

...the state's senior senator is at least temporarily last in Democratic seniority, blunting one of the chief arguments he planned to use in his quest for a record sixth term.
The arrangement threatens the influence that Mr. Specter had counted on wielding through his once-senior spots on powerful panels, including the judiciary and the appropriations committees.

"This raises a very real question for Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania, and that is, 'What does he have to offer?'" said Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Joe Torsella, the first declared challenger for the Democratic seat. "He has no seniority; he has a 75 percent voting record with [former President] George Bush."

At last night's Democratic Party dinner at the Westin Convention Center hotel, Downtown, Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, blistered Mr. Specter in a speech in which he predicted that the senator would suffer politically if he did not change his stance on the Employee Free Choice Act.

"Voters don't tend to focus on who's got what chairmanship," Mr. Sestak said, but he argued that a larger concern was whether Mr. Specter would prove to be a reliably Democratic voice in the longer term on issues such as health care and the economy.

The paper also says Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb "said seniority issues wouldn't influence his consideration of the race."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sestak Keeps Up 'Reliability' Drumbeat; More Reasons Ridge and Specter Early Leads Don't Mean Much

Sestak kept up his drumbeat on "'How reliable will (Specter) be?'" in interviews with CNN and Politico.

Good roundup from the Post-Gazette's Early Returns blog on what I consider to be more reasons not to buy the Ridge hype, even if he does run. (Example: The Republican base would just LOVE that he voted for the 1994 assault-weapons ban.)

Speaking of not buying hype or early polls, Chris Bowers said this yesterday:

Democratic primary: Republican polling out (of) Public Opinion Strategies shows Specter leading Sestak 57%-20% in the Democratic primary. While it may seem strange to hear me say this, these are not terrible numbers. This week will be the all-time peak for Specter's popularity among Pennsylvania Democrats. If 57% is the best he can do, without anyone really making the case against him from a Democratic perspective, then he is vulnerable.
Now, these are not great numbers for Sestak, either. While he would likely receive the lion's share of undecideds due to his low name ID, I had been hoping for him to be within 20% of Specter. Had that been the case, then he would have been virtually assured of victory in the event of a primary challenge. While these numbers show that he could potentially win, they also show it would be far from a slam dunk. The relative difficulty of this campaign versus winning re-election in the increasingly Democratic PA-07 might cause him to think twice about running statewide.

Seniority Shockwave and Getting Seniority Back Not a Sure Thing

OK, so I was tired when I put this in a roundup last night rather than giving it the "Holy crap!" treatment -- but Sen. Specter losing his seniority for the next 1 1/2 years -- and maybe not getting it back -- yikes, that's big.

One of his biggest selling points for the primary and the general election was going to be "I can bring home the bacon because I have almost 30 years of seniority." That ability was a major reason counties all over Western PA were scrambling to get even a sliver of their communities into Congressman Murtha's district during the last redistricting. (See the 12th District map here.)

At least one commentator today likened the situation to Specter being on probation. That seems like a good description.

But even if Specter does shape up, I wonder -- of the 58 Democratic senators who now outrank Specter in seniority -- if Specter returns for the 2011-12 session, how many of those more senior Democratic senators will be willing to let him claim part or all of his seniority from his time as a Republican?

Senator Specter is of course expressing confidence that he will get his seniority back.

I am not so sure. If he returns in 2011, there have already been hints that some Democratic senators will remember his work on the Judiciary Committee helping Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Scalito, er, Alito get on the Supreme Court.

Others will look at how high he would rank on the Appropriations Committee and think, "Hey, I want that money going to MY state." (And some would also recall how much money he's appropriated for ineffective "abstinence-only" sex education over the years.)

From a Politico article today, here's a sampling of what I mean:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of an Appropriations subcommittee who would have been passed over by the more senior Specter, said it would have been an unfair move.
"When you get to be a chairman you really have some control of that area, and that's what makes it interesting for me," Feinstein told POLITICO. "Somebody comes in on top - then everybody gets bumped. Then somebody gets bumped from the committee. That's a very hard thing if you've got 14 years having been on that committee. Obviously you'd like to stay where you are. I understand how people feel about it."
Feinstein said she's heard other members complain about Specter keeping his seniority too. "It's a concern and I think Sen. Specter will understand that."

You get the idea...

I Get Quoted Asking: What Are Dems Getting Out of Specter Switch?

Two nonpartisan PA politics sites interviewed me Monday and the coverage came out today.

Dan Hirschhorn at Pa2010 included a comment from me in a lengthy story today headlined "From the grassroots up, calls for a competitive Dem primary threaten to boil over":

...a grassroots infrastructure to hold Specter accountable to Democratic values—and perhaps eventually challenge him—has formed quickly. The Accountability Now PAC has been calling for a primary and laying the groundwork for helping to fund a challenger. At least two Facebook groups have been formed—”I support a real progressive against Arlen Specter” and “Keep Specter Honest.” And a Democratic activist has started Specter Watch, a blog that is closely monitoring the Senator’s every move.
“We’re talking about a state that President Obama won by 11 points,” said Ben Turner, who runs the blog. “This is not a state where you have to be timid if you’re a Democrat now. We know what the Republican base used to get out of [Specter]. They would get a year-and-a-half of votes from him before the primary. What is the Democratic Party going to get out of him?”

(Actually, the Republican base used to get more than that -- look at all the funding he brought to PA for "abstinence-only" sex education, to give one example.)

And Alex Roarty included this in today's PoliticsPA Daily Read: interviewed the founder of the blog Specter Watch, Ben Turner, on Monday. His bottom line: What does Specter support in the Democratic agenda?
“There's also the question of, ‘If he does support something now, how sure can we be a few weeks or months from now that he still will?’” Turner said in an interview over an instant messaging service. “He cosponsored EFCA, and then the Republican primary was approaching, so -- not. And now, stay tuned, I guess?”

(That instant messaging service, by the way, is Gmail Chat -- the address for me is specterwatch at gmail dot com.)

(UPDATED) - Is Agreement Near for Specter to (Re-)Support Employee Free Choice?

UPDATED: Talking Points Memo has a good roundup on Sen. Harkin and PA unions trying to get Specter to (re-)support the Employee Free Choice Act.

In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- two major labor leaders from PA have an op-ed today explaining why EFCA is needed -- under the headline "Free choice for all: Sen. Specter chose his affiliation; workers should be able to, as well" -- and they include this:
Mr. Specter has demonstrated time and time again he is capable of bold action. When he withdrew his support from the Employee Free Choice Act in March, he left the door open to supporting labor law reform. We invite him to boldly walk back through that door and join like-minded senators in his new political party and take part in fixing America's broken labor laws.

Major Blogs Running Straw Poll at

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC has put a site up for a straw poll of the Democratic "netroots" (that's short for Internet grassroots) on whether we should "draft" Sestak to run against Specter. Several major blogs are participating.

It's at The site has some interesting point/counterpoints posted, including an insightful one from Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg — editor of Young Philly Politics.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Specter: 'I Misspoke' on Coleman vs. Franken

CQ Politics reports tonight:

..questioned outside the Senate chamber Tuesday, Specter said the comment was a mistake.
“In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates,” he said. “I’m ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I’ve made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke.”
Asked who he’s backing now in elections, Specter said, “I’m looking for more Democratic members. Nothing personal.”

OK, so what about the Jeff Sessions comments? Or the Anita Hill comment in the same NY Times article that contains the Coleman bit?

Tuesday Wrap-Up: Torsella Seeks to Build Coalition; Specter Seniority May Be Gone for 2009-10 Session; Kos, Dean and Carville Weigh In

From the Hill:

From Democrat(ic) Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Torsella's perspective, Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties hasn't changed the dynamic of the race very much and has provided an opportunity to capitalize on a group of Democrats that won't accept the Specter into the party.
Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Torsella, told the BBR the campaign was already preparing to take on Specter, now it is just having to move up its timetable.

The campaign, Nevins said, has heard from activist, or grassroots, Democrats who have encouraged Torsella to stay in the race.

From Daily Kos:
The founder of Kos said today that Specter is "just begging for that primary challenge" (based in large part on today's comments about Jeff Sessions) and also added in a separate post with some NSFW (maybe not-safe-for-work) language, "Keep it up Arlen, your Joe Lieberman impersonation is so spot-on, that we can't wait to take you on in the Democratic primary."

From Roll Call tonight: Specter Will Be Junior Democrat on Committees:
Despite promises from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that Sen. Arlen Specter would retain his seniority after switching parties, Specter will be put at the end of the seniority line on all his committees but one under a resolution expected to be passed on the floor late Tuesday.

From the Huffington Post: Dean, Carville Warn Specter: Shape Up Or Face Primary
"I'm pleased that he saw the light and decided he would be a better fit for the Democratic Party and I think you have to allow for his political views to evolve," said former DNC chairman Howard Dean in an interview with the Huffington Post. "But he won't win the Democratic primary by taking the position that you should not have [the Employee Free Choice Act] or a public option for health insurance... If he takes these kinds of views, of course there is going to be a Democratic primary."

Sestak Unsure on Public Option in Health Care Reform

This has the potential to be a BIG deal. From Talking Points Memo:

...there may not be much daylight between Specter and Sestak on at least one of these issues. Sestak says he's still unsure whether he supports a public health insurance option as an element of comprehensive health reform. He plans to discuss the issue further with SEIU president Andy Stern and others and come to a decision in the coming weeks, but if he ultimately comes down against that policy, he'll be in just about the same camp as his new rival, who came out against a public option over the weekend. Obviously that means less in the House (where Sestak serves) than it does in the Senate (where Specter potentially wields enormous influence), but no less a figure than Howard Dean has said that comprehensive health reform requires a public option.
Last night, Stern told ABC news that "[i]t is hard to imagine any union supporting a candidate in the Democratic Party for the US Senate who doesn't have strong positions on both healthcare and Employee Free Choice."...

Here's part of a Specter Watch post from Sunday about public option in health care reform:

This is one of the biggest issues of the year and a priority for President Obama (and it's good policy, too, by the way). Including competition from a public option (think Medicare for people under 65) is one of the biggest things we can do to rein in out-of-control health care cost inflation.

Why Ridge Shouldn't - and Might Not - Run

Some reasons why Tom Ridge would be better off not running:

1. Early poll numbers mean squat - they often just reflect name recognition (that includes self-serving polls that appear designed to lure him into the race)

2. Lives in Maryland now

3. Lobbyist stuff

4. 'Pro-choice' and 'moderate' labels are the kiss of death in a PA GOP primary these days

5. Signed the 1995 pay raise into law

You can read a lot more about these -- especially #2 and #3 -- at other sites, such as the conservative site GrassrootsPA (a -- maybe the -- home base for the Toomey fans).

Specter Foot-in-Mouth Watch: Anita Hill, Jeff Sessions, Norm Coleman

Would that be a better name for this site? (Kidding.)

But -- sheesh. I'll get to the Coleman thing after 2 things that strike me as even more troubling.

1. This Sunday's New York Times magazine will have a Q-and-A with Specter that includes this:

(Q:) Many women can never forgive you for your aggressive questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Do you regret your behavior?
(Specter:) No. When a serious charge is made like sexual harassment, the subject is entitled to question the accuser and find out the facts, and that’s what I did.

2. Politico reports Specter regrets his 'no' vote that helped keep far-right-winger Jeff Sessions out of a lifetime federal judgeship over questions about Sessions' race relations record:

Following his first lunch meeting with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, Specter told reporters that out of the 10,000 votes he has cast, he can now recall one that he regrets.
“I don’t expect everybody to agree with all my votes, and I don’t agree with all my votes, either, at this point ... and I was asked the other day what vote I regretted, and I couldn’t think of one that I wanted to publicly state, but I’m prepared to do that now in response to your question,” Specter said. “My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake.”

(Comment: As opposed to Senator Specter's 'no' vote on Obama's budget last week after switching parties, or his 'no' vote last week on helping struggling homeowners...)

3. In the same NY Times piece, Specter says Minnesota loser Norm Coleman should be seated in the Senate (or will we be told soon that's a misquote like the "loyal Democrat" bit?):

(Q:) With your departure from the Republican Party, there are no more Jewish Republicans in the Senate. Do you care about that?
(Specter:) I sure do. There’s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.
(Q:) Which seems about as likely at this point as Jerry Seinfeld’s joining the Senate.
(Specter:) Well, it was about as likely as my becoming a Democrat.

Now earlier in the day, only the first Q and A had gotten out and not the Seinfeld Q and A that follows. So maybe that Coleman thing was a joke. Either way, Senator Specter needs to clear this up ASAP.

When was this interview given? Before he switched or after?

And in either case, will he put out a statement retracting his Coleman and/or Anita Hill comments? Not to mention, what is Pennsylvania's diverse Democratic electorate going to think of the Jeff Sessions and Anita Hill bits?

P-G's Tony Norman: Specter no shoo-in for Democrats

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman, for Tuesday's paper:

There are a whole lot of Democrats I'm inclined to support before tossing my vote away on a man who holds his nose whenever he talks about the Democratic Party.
To paraphrase Arlen Specter himself -- his change in party affiliation doesn't mean that registered Democrats are obligated to fall in line. If he can't vote for the Employee Free Choice Act or the bankruptcy reform bill without violating his conscience, there's no reason that he should be the party's nominee.

Monday, May 4, 2009

ABC: AFL-CIO's Trumka: Labor Might Not Support Specter

From ABC:

On today's "Top Line," Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, warned that union leaders may drop their longstanding support for Specter, D-Pa., if -- as he has promised to do -- he votes against them on their legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act.

Trumka said he's still confident that Specter's concerns about the bill can be addressed.
"He says he's not for the current bill in its current form, although I think there is a form that he will [support]. We'll see what happens," he said.
He added that any bill "absolutely" would have to provide for binding arbitration to provide a fixed timeline for resolving disputes over forming unions -- a provision that is harshly opposed by business groups.

Sestak: If Specter Doesn't Shift His Positions, I'll Run Against Him

Sestak: If Specter Doesn't Shift His Positions, I'll Run Against Him

That's the Talking Points Memo headline on this new development that also comes via Greg Sargent:
Sestak cautioned that Stern didn’t directly address the 2010 primary. But he said the meeting went “great,” strongly suggesting that SEIU is seriously considering supporting him or another primary challenger to Specter. “It was very clear that there were a number of issues we agree on,” Sestak said of his much-anticipated meeting with Stern.
Sestak also confirmed that he’d almost certainly get in the race if Specter doesn’t show a major ideological change of heart. “If he doesn’t demonstrate that he has shifted his position on a number of issues, I would not hesitate at all to get in,” Sestak said.

'Loyal Democrat' Quote Flap; Specter Meets with An Editorial Board

Greg Sargent's WhoRunsGov blog reported today that two different journalists are "sticking by the claim that Arlen Specter privately promised Obama that he’d be a 'loyal Democrat,' which Specter loudly denied yesterday."

Sargent also said: "If Specter privately fibbed to Obama about his loyalty to Dems, and is now publicly fibbing about having said it, perhaps it tells Democrats a thing or two about their new Senator."

David Shuster, guest-hosting MSNBC's Countdown tonight (typically they seem to post video around 10/11 PM Eastern or later), and his guest (Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, I think) made the point that the video clip of "I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat" could be damaging and stick in voters' minds in the Dem primary. They also discussed how strange it is that Specter and his office would leave the "loyal Democrat" quote out there uncorrected for 96 hours if it really is incorrect.

They also said it may depend what the definition of "loyal" is (I'm paraphrasing).

Specter met with the Harrisburg newspaper's editorial board today -- his first such meeting since the switch. Short writeup is online now - maybe there will be a longer version tomorrow morning.

PA Pollster Borick: Specter Vulnerable in Democratic Primary; and a Comment on Polls

In a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed today, pollster Christopher Borick from the Lehigh Valley says Toomey's near-miss in the 2004 primary shows Specter isn't assured of winning the nomination in the 2010 Democratic primary:

Perpetually denigrated as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) during much of his career, Specter has instantly become Pennsylvania's most famous DINO: Democrat In Name Only. A smart fifth grader with access to Google could put together decades' worth of votes putting Specter at odds with Democratic positions. From Anita Hill to union card check, there is no shortage of material.
And, as recent elections have shown, nothing ramps up Democrats like tying a candidate to Bush. Even with Bush out of the spotlight, a series of ads reminding Democratic primary voters of the many times Specter went along with the former president could be a potent weapon. Specter's good friend Joe Lieberman can attest to the perils of getting too close to Bush.

When a party is weak, settling makes strategic sense. But the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania is anything but weak.

End of quoting Dr. Borick -- here are some thoughts of my own:

There are at least two polls out today, and frankly I think it's too early to put much stock in any of them. For one thing, Specter will probably show a HUGE lead in any Dem primary poll right now over Sestak, Torsella or anyone else, mainly due to name recognition. (Although it would be interesting if a pollster asks Dems if they want Specter as their nominee or "someone else.")

My gut is:
  • that any reasonably moderate to progressive, mainstream, credible Democrat should beat Toomey;
  • that Toomey will probably win the Republican nomination even if Ridge or Gerlach get in, mainly because "moderate" and "pro-choice" (in Ridge's case -- not sure about Gerlach?) are the kiss of death with the Republican base.

Worth noting, even if he is from Sestak's home county -- Delaware County Dem chairman Cliff Wilson told Pa2010, "I think [Sestak] would have an excellent chance of actually beating Specter in a Democratic primary." According to another Pa2010 post, Wilson, "who emphasized he hasn’t spoken with the Congressman about the race since Specter’s defection, put the odds of a Sestak run at 50-50."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Republic Editorial

The NOT far-left New Republic's editors make some good points in an editorial posted this weekend for the May 20 edition -- the site alternately headlines it "The Runaway" and "Not So Fast, Arlen! You Need To Earn Your Spot In The Democratic Party":

...with Obama already vowing to campaign and fund-raise for him, it wouldn't be unreasonable for Specter to assume he can vote in ways that displease Democratic voters (and even the White House) on critical issues like health care since, at the end of the day, he has the ultimate political trump card: the support of Obama, whose approval rating in Pennsylvania is almost ten points higher than Specter's.
That is why it's essential that Specter not run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

It's also crucial that, once the primary battle begins, Obama makes sure the intensity of his support for Specter's candidacy is closely tied to the intensity of Specter's support for Obama's agenda. ... There's no reason Obama shouldn't make Specter swing left to secure his. It's one thing for Obama to endorse Specter's candidacy; it's another thing for him to record commercials and robo-calls, hold fund-raisers, and show up at campaign events for Specter. He should only do the latter if Specter comes through for him.

Hear, hear!

Sestak Updates Campaign Site, Speaks Up on CNN

Congressman Sestak's campaign website has been updated to comment on the Senate race

We are at such a critical point in Pennsylvania’s history, and our nation’s, that who you are running against pales in comparison to what are you running for. So while Arlen’s decision may be good for himself, politically, to avoid running against someone he could not beat, his decision begs what he is running for, and whether he is the best candidate to shape the future of Pennsylvania.
After 31 years of serving in our country’s military, and leading our brave men and women in harm’s way, one of my core tenets is that you run for something you believe in, and do not avoid that which may be difficult.

He also did an interview with CNN today along those lines, including this comment: ""I'm not sure [Specter] is a Democrat yet."

Specter Says No to Public Option in Health Care Reform

(h/t Nyceve at Daily Kos) Specter on "Meet the Press" today said he was misquoted about being a "loyal Democrat" and that he opposes including a public option in health care reform.

This is one of the biggest issues of the year and a priority for President Obama (and it's good policy, too, by the way). Including competition from a public option (think Medicare for people under 65) is one of the biggest things we can do to rein in out-of-control health care cost inflation.

It's a good thing that health care reform is apparently getting the anti-filibuster protection of "reconciliation," which would let it pass on a simple majority vote, because PA's new Democratic senator is sounding like the same Specter who helped kill the Clinton health care proposal in the 1990s.

Sunday Roundup: Torsella Website is Live; Lamb Still Looking at the Race; Reid Softens Seniority Stance?

Several items of note today:

  • The Torsella campaign let me know that is now live.
  • Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb (Wikipedia entry here) is still looking at the Senate race. (Covered in a longer Post-Gazette analysis of the Democratic Senate primary.)
  • The Hill reports that "Under pressure, (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid now says it will be up to the Democratic caucus to determine whether to recognize Specter’s 28 1/2 years of seniority."
  • Comedy from Pat Toomey: "Reagan carried this state twice. I don't think this state has changed." As Sarah Palin would say, You betcha - no Republican running for president has carried PA since 1988, and right-winger Santorum got his rear end handed to him in 2006.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Letterman's Top Ten Reasons Specter Switched

OK, time for a little humor...

Top Ten Reasons Arlen Specter Switched Parties

My favorite:
6. Same reason 10 million other Republicans switched parties last November

Specter's Environmental Record, Opposition to Dawn Johnsen and a Warning from Labor

Missed this Los Angeles Times article from Wednesday -- "Some Democrats skeptical of Specter's party switch." It has a few key points not already covered on this blog:

"As of now, he has about a 68% voting record [in siding with labor], which is good for a Republican, but does not meet the mustard when it comes to getting endorsed as a Democrat," said Bill George, president of the state AFL-CIO.
Neil Oxman, a Democratic strategist who advises Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, described Specter as a politician who "transforms himself for every election" and is now "disguising the fact he supported Bush 76% of the time and voted for all of these Republican judges." Oxman's criticism previewed a likely attack that the newly minted Democrat will face in a party primary, possibly from another Oxman client, state Board of Education Chairman Joseph Torsella.

(I know, consider the source. But that doesn't mean he's wrong either.)

Specter also said Tuesday that he opposed Obama's pick to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen, an outspoken critic of Bush-era interrogation policies. And the incumbent senator will be forced to reckon with a sour rating from environmentalists; last year he earned a 27% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.


There's also this at the end, about the Employee Free Choice Act and Specter's meeting with Teamster officials the day before he announced his party switch:

On Monday, Hoffa and Hamilton delivered a stern warning that Specter would lose their support, and thereby the election, if he did not come to their aid on the legislation."If he maintains his position, he won't get the support of labor in Pennsylvania. And if labor doesn't support him, it won't much matter what party he belongs to," Hamilton said. "But Sen. Specter is someone who knows how to compromise. And he certainly didn't shut the door on us."

Accountability Now PAC Looking at PA Senate Race; Separate Effort on Facebook Nearing $20K in Pledges

Another possible source of money for a progressive challenge to Specter -- Accountability Now PAC -- spoke up today:

Accountability Now PAC announced today that it opposed efforts by elites to deny Pennsylvania Democrats their right to choose a candidate for U.S. Senate. Powerbrokers claim to have promised Senator Arlen Specter a “clear field” in next spring’s Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate.
“We believe that primaries play a critical role in empowering voters, and we oppose ongoing efforts to deny Pennsylvania Democrats their right to choose who represents them in the Senate,” said Jane Hamsher, founder of and co-founder of Accountability Now. “Senator Specter certainly deserves a fair hearing from Democrats, but Pennsylvania Democrats have the right to hear from alternative voices who may be closer to their views on critical issues.”

And the Facebook group "I support a real progressive against Arlen Specter" is up to 781 fans as of this evening, equaling $19,525 in pledges -- up about $1,500 from last night.

'Labor Joins Sestak In Pressuring Specter'

Good news, via Talking Points Memo:

Labor Joins Sestak In Pressuring Specter

$18K Pledged for Progressive Challenger to Specter

(hat-tip to Early Returns at has an interesting post up: "Will Joe Sestak Challenge and Beat Arlen Specter? - Updated"

That post includes some interesting analysis arguing that Sestak shouldn't defer to Specter, and a link to a new Facebook group: "I support a real progressive against Arlen Specter." Mostly focuses on Sestak, but also mentions Torsella.

Based on 736 people having signed up so far as fans on that Facebook group -- meaning they are pledging at least $25 each for a hoped-for progressive challenger, that would be $18,400.