Arlen Specter should by all accounts be the favorite in the Pennsylvania next year. Yet I think his putative opponent Joe Sestak has a real chance to pull an upset.
First, Sestak has all sorts of conservative votes to hang around Specter’s neck. Specter voted to confirm Clarence Thomas. He voted for the war in Iraq, something the Democratic grassroots never forgave Hillary Clinton for. He voted for the PATRIOT act in 2001 and to reauthorize it. And he voted for the Bush tax cuts.
Sestak can use these votes to ask if Specter really belongs in the Democratic Party. Remember too, that your average primary voter in the Democratic Party will most likely be well left-of-center.
Moreover, Specter has continually demonstrated weaknesses with certain groups of the Democratic coalition. Specter won just 25% of the black vote for example in his 2004 reelection race. He also won only 37% of Latinos.
And of course it’s worth noting that he won only 28% of Democrats, and 23% of liberals. It is precisely these people who will determine whether he gets nominated next year. For sure, Specter will likely enjoy some honeymoon as Democrats rejoice that he has put them one seat closer to 60. My hunch though, is that many Democrats will remain suspicious of him.
Sestak has an attractive military background and can make the case that the people of Pennsylvania deserve a real Democrat. A recent poll found that Specter holds a 50%-21% lead, but 70% of Democrats don’t know enough to have an opinion about Specter. Specter has considerable advantages such as support from the Obama administration and Pennsylvania Democrats such as Ed Rendell. Still, Sestak definitely has a case to make and I think he has a shot at winning.