Sestak On His Come-From-Behind Win Over Specter
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Years from now, Congressman Joe Sestak's defeat of incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in yesterday's Pennsylvania Democratic primary will likely be studied as a classic come-from-behind victory. The former Navy admiral was popular in the Philadelphia suburbs, but little known elsewhere until he hit the airwaves with an aggressive take-no-prisoners campaign that portrayed Specter as an opportunistic flip-flopper who left the Republican Party only because being a Democrat improved his chances of victory.
Sestak's victory sets up the fall race as an intense liberal versus conservative battle. He will now face off against Republican Pat Toomey, a former conservative congressman who almost unseated Specter six years ago.
Joe Sestak joins us now from his office on Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.
SIEGEL: It's great to be with you, Michele. Thank you for this opportunity.
NORRIS: Now, you said shortly after your win yesterday that this was a victory of the people over the establishment. You repeated that again today in earlier interviews. But aren't you part of the establishment?
NORRIS: Well, I was in the U.S. Navy for 31 years. And when my daughter had a brain tumor, I decided to run for Congress after she was saved with the health care plan we had in the military, to have everyone have that same opportunity. So I've been down there three years.
But what I found was that too often career politicians are more interested in keeping their job than in helping or serving people. And I'm a very pragmatic person. People ask me if I'm liberal or conservative. I say neither - I'm pragmatic. So I stood up to my party.
NORRIS: It's been reported that the White House at one point tried to get you to back away from this race. Who told you to back down?
NORRIS: Well, it's not...
NORRIS: And did that continue even after you started to gain on Arlen Specter?
NORRIS: You know, it's interesting, I was asked that question once seven months after it happened last summer. And I answered it and said, yes, someone did. But other than that, to go beyond it, it's just - it's politics. It's deal-making that, frankly, I think makes the system in Washington, D.C. a little broken. And that's what people don't like.
So I told the individual, look, I'm getting this 'cause I don't think the deal helps Pennsylvanians. I wouldn't get out for a deal. I'd get out only if it were to be the right thing and it wasn't. And the fact that the working families in Pennsylvania endorsed me yesterday to be their fighter for them - 'cause they know you just don't vote for change, you got to go in there and fight for change in a broken Washington, D.C. - I think validated that decision to get in.
NORRIS: What is your view of President Obama and the job he's doing in office? And do you expect support from him in the general election?
NORRIS: He called me last evening, and what a gracious man, as Senator Specter did - equally gracious, and said, Joe, I'm here to support you. And I said, Mr. President, I want to be your strongest ally in the Senate to help you. But I'm not a yes man. But I think President Obama, having been given a pretty weak deck of cards to deal with, I think he's trying to truly do the right thing.
NORRIS: Pat Toomey, who you will face in the fall election, is an unabashed conservative. He will tell voters that this is who I am, this is what I am and this is what I believe in. During the campaign you called yourself a real Democrat. I'm curious about what that means, what it means to be a real Democrat.
NORRIS: A real Democrat is someone who believes that America's character is based upon the great alliance between rugged individualism and the common enterprise, where everyone comes together for the good of moving the nation forward, as we did in the Navy, coming together in a crew on a ship to move the ship forward.
So when we have 700 Pennsylvanians losing their health care every day and we're losing $150 billion in lost productivity because of the uninsured, boy, the common good of America is sure suffering, as well as that rugged individualism that we have.
NORRIS: I want to give you chance to respond to something that Governor Rendell said - Governor Ed Rendell, who supported Arlen Specter, said that your victory had more to do with the mood of the country than your political skills or perhaps even the campaign that you run.
He said, and this is a quote, "in fairness to Arlen, if the economy was okay and if there was no anti-incumbent wave, this would not have been a close election." What is your response to that?
NORRIS: Well, the only thing I was concerned about is whether the working families of Pennsylvania won at the end of the day. And rather than being saddled with someone who had pursued George Bush's agenda for eight years, they were able to now have a warrior for them that would've said, I can lose my job - and that's why I'm not running for my congressional job simultaneously - in order to fight for you, however it came about.
NORRIS: Congressman Sestak, thank you very much for your time.
NORRIS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Congressman Joe Sestak. He defeated Arlen Specter in Tuesday's primary. He'll face Pat Toomey in the fall mid-term elections.