A Pennsylvania political fight for a House seat pits long-time incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski against a feisty Hazleton Mayor named Joe Barletta. Neither man has serious competition in Pennsylvania’s May primary, and a contest between Kanjorski and Barletta seems set in stone.
The Democrat primary climate is quite a bit different with regard to the contest for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Arlen Specter. A big problem for Arlen Specter is that he spent most of his thirty years as a Republican, often fence sitting on issues where more conservative Republicans called for stronger positions. Having narrowly squeaked by in a previous victory over current Republican frontrunner, Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania’s senior Senator switched parties.
Now, Specter stands to lose his first contest as a Senate Democrat. Pennsylvania anger over $500 billion in Medicare cuts, and the methods used in passing the Democrat’s health care bill have put Pat Toomey ahead against both Democrats in current polls.
Arlen Specter’s primary opponent, retired Naval Officer Joe Sestak, would like that Republican identity to stick to Specter. Sestak appeared on Chris Matthew’s “Hardball” program to say he’s the real Democrat, and a long-time supporter of the President’s health care bill.
Specter’s support of President Obama has been characterized as politically expedient. Worried he couldn’t win against Toomey, who takes a conservative stand at a time when Pennsylvanians are hurt by unemployment numbers and fear Washington spending. Toomey has also made it clear that he opposes government control of health care and its associated budgetary deficits.
Specter had no choice but to switch parties-if he wanted to remain in Congress. So the story goes, and it is hard to argue otherwise.
But it is the underbelly of Democrat Party politics which will play out in the May primary. The bitterness of the fight between Sestak and Specter is apparent in the non-issue side of the debate.
Representative Sestak has long criticized Arlen Specter for trading his Judicial Committee vote for support from top Republican players in past Supreme Court nominations. That charge was given added weight when former PA Senator Rick Santorum leaked backroom political discussions with Specter in a speech before Republicans earlier this year. Specter denied making any deals in exchange for his Supreme Court nominee votes.
Senator Specter fired back yesterday in a campaign ad which impugned Sestak’s 30 year Naval career in a video ad titled “No Show Joe.” The ad mentions Sestak’s many absences from House votes which puts him “at the bottom of the Congress”, but it also says Sestak was “relieved of duty” by Obama’s Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, for creating a “poor command climate.” The ad directs viewers to the NoShowJoe.org website.
Specter’s smear campaign against Sestak’s military record goes against reason and common sense, in any case. Spector’s decision to attack the honor of a long naval career from which Sestak retired as a Rear Admiral will likely cement his political doom, even if one subscribes to the theory that rank is sometimes attained without merit. Such things do happen occasionally, but not very often in a 30 year career of distinguished service as a Naval Officer.