Salena Zito

Word out of Washington is that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the political wise-guys from the Obama administration plan on “visiting with” Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Joe Sestak. Their objective? A clear message: Get off of the stage and out of a possible primary race against “incumbent” Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter.

“I have received a call from DSCC chair Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey,” admitted Sestak in an interview. “But we keep missing each other.”

Probably a good thing for both men at this moment: Sestak has no inclination to be pushed out of a race and Menendez’s marching orders from the White House are to not only push but shove.

“Joe Sestak is a very credible candidate,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based political consultant. “If Specter would have stayed in the GOP, I believe Sestak would have been the Democratic nominee.”

Ceisler explains part of Sestak’s appeal is that he is not exactly establishment and doesn’t owe anyone anything: “He is sitting on enough cash to lay the foundation for a good campaign.”

It was not that long ago that Ed Rendell was an "anti-establishment candidate” for governor in a Pennsylvania primary.

“Ed Rendell won the 2002 Democratic primary over Bob Casey Jr. without the backing of any real establishment base within his party or the unions,” explained GOP strategist Kent Gates. “He won based on geography and profile in the Southeast as well as an incredible ability to raise money nationally and within the state.”

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. like Specter had the state committee, state party and the unions all behind him. He lost by nearly 13 percentage points.

Ceisler explains Sestak’s punishment from Obama will be that he is shut off from traditional funding sources -- but a strong showing with net fundraising would keep him very competitive.

Would Obama be able to shut down that avenue also? wonders Ceisler: “To be determined and tested.”

As of late last week Sestak had no plans of going anywhere but forward: “I felt when everyone was told to get out of the race that it was violating a principle of why I got into politics.”

He says it is those types of "deals" that turns people off to the machinations of Washington.

“Rather than being up front and letting Pennsylvania Democrats have a choice in an election, they have a cut a deal,” he said.

And that does not sit well with Sestak.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.