Report: Sestak Plans To Challenge Specter In PA Dem Primary

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Not every Democrat welcomed Sen. Specter's entry into their party. hide caption

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A bombshell today from Brian Beutler in Talking Points Memo: Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak plans to challenge newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in next year's Democratic primary.

Keystone Dems were hoping Specter, who left the GOP a month ago after 40 years, could avoid an intraparty challenge. They were successful in getting Joe Torsella, the former head of the National Constitution Center — who entered the race when Specter was still a Republican — to end his candidacy two weeks ago.

But in the background was always the possibility that Sestak, a two-term representative from the Philadelphia suburbs and a retired Navy vice admiral, would challenge Specter. The 79-year-old Specter may be a liberal — certainly in the eyes of conservative Republicans — but there are many Democrats who have spent decades trying to defeat him. There have always been raw feelings from Specter's grilling of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings back in 1991 and, more recently, his support for justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But there are other irritants as well, such as his failure to embrace the Employee Free Choice Act.

And the new Democrat has had some missteps of his own since his party switch. He voted against the Obama budget resolution and, in an interview with The New York Times magazine a few weeks back, he indicated that the Minnesota courts could still "do justice and declare [Republican] Norm Coleman the winner" of his still-undecided Senate race with Al Franken (D). Specter eventually backtracked on that one.

Michael Falcone, writing in Politico, says that Specter "will have his work cut out persuading rank-and-file Democrats to get behind him."

Enter Joe Sestak. Here's Beutler's report on TPM:

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 note says, "I am writing you as especially dear supporters to let you know I intend to run for the U.S. Senate ... my candidacy's credibility will have much to do with my fundraising success by the 30 June FEC filing deadline at the end of this quarter. Would you help me bring the change for the future we Pennsylvanians need[?]"

Infantino confirms that the note is genuine and that "Joe Sestak has written a number of similar notes."

But a Sestak Senate candidacy is not a done deal. In addition to President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, who have already signed on to back Specter, Beutler reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is also "getting in on the act":

Word out of Washington, D.C., is that the [DSCC] and the political wiseguys from the Obama administration plan on "visiting with" Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Joe Sestak. Their objective is clear: Get him off the stage and out of a primary race against incumbent (and now Democrat) Sen. Arlen Specter.

A Pennsylvania Democratic strategist said moments ago that, when all is said and done, "I think Sestak doesn't run. The pressures on him to stay out of it are enormous."

What's It Toomey? Pat Toomey, the conservative former congressman and ex-chair of Club for Growth who is the leading Republican candidate for the Senate seat, welcomed Sestak to the race: ""While Joe Sestak and I disagree on a host of issues, I commend him for being a principled liberal who stands up for his beliefs and values. I have always believed that Pennsylvania voters — not party bosses in Washington — should have the final say over whom their nominees will be."

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