One year after his jump from Republican to Democrat, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter admitted to a reporter over coffee that he often wonders if he should have switched parties.
And therein lies the problem of Specter: He’s never understood that his own worst enemy has always been the man in the mirror.
It isn’t that he was a Republican who often crossed the Senate aisle to vote with Democrats, or that he switched from Democrat to Republican to Democrat. It’s that he is untrustworthy.
Politicians know you can survive the storm of emotions; a thin line exists between love and hate. But lose the voters’ trust, and you have lost their vote.
“Everybody stays around one season or one election too long, and that may be Specter’s fate,” says Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman.
Specter’s campaign, state Democrats’ party apparatus and the national party have all done a feeble job of trying to marginalize U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County, his primary opponent, as a windmill-chasing political Don Quixote – although they have done a fantastic job of persuading potential fundraisers and campaign staffers that supporting Sestak could be career-ending.
Specter hasn’t trailed in any polls to date but a Rasmussen poll released two weeks ago showed Sestak pulling to within two points.
With Specter backed by the White House and by great big gobs of cash, conventional wisdom has Specter winning the May 18 primary.
Not necessarily so, says a Democratic strategist familiar with the campaign: “I have always believed that … this is Joe Sestak’s race to lose.”
The key to a Sestak primary victory has always been to become recognized by rank-and-file Democrats as a legitimate, viable, principled alternative to incumbent Specter.
“While the Sestak campaign has been slow to do this, it is now picking up the necessary steam with (its) acceleration of the campaign-ad wars,” says Keystone College political science professor Jeff Brauer.
Brauer says Sestak can successfully use Specter’s own strategy against him, “by pinning him down as a turncoat and political opportunist, linking his longevity to all the current economic woes, and pressing his responsibility for them.”