WASHINGTON (CNN) - Joe Torsella, the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, announced Tuesday that he will not step aside following the news that Republican Sen. Arlen Specter would run for re-election as a Democrat in 2010.
Specter, who is seeking a sixth term, announced earlier in the day he would switch his party affiliation to the Democratic Party. Torsella's decision to stay in the race means that Specter will face a Democratic primary in 2010.
"I decided to run for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania for one simple reason: I believe we need new leadership, new ideas, and new approaches in Washington," Torsella, the former head of the National Constitution Center, said in a statement sent to CNN. "It's become obvious that the old ways of doing business might have worked for the special interests, but they haven't worked for the rest of us.
"Nothing about today's news regarding Senator Specter changes that, or my intention to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 2010 – an election that is still a full year away."
Torsella is vowing to move forward, but some top Pennsylvania Democrats say that once he senses the extent of the support Specter will receive from the party, the field is likely to clear for the incumbent.
On Tuesday, according to an administration official, Obama called Specter and told him: "You have my full support, and we're thrilled to have you" in the Democratic Party. Specter told reporters Sen. Joe Lieberman had offered to come to Pennsylvania and campaign on his behalf, and that Rendell had earlier offered fundraising assistance.
When Gov. Ed Rendell and Vice President Joe Biden both pulled Specter aside separately after the February economic summit in Philadelphia - an event where they teased him publicly that he should be a Democrat - to encourage him to change parties, the senator said: "No, I can't do that to the moderate wing of the party," according to a top Pennsylvania Democrat.
Rendell himself was informed of Specter's party switch Tuesday while in a meeting. "I have Obama on the phone for you. Obama said – Specter is becoming one of us. Call him," a staffer told the governor.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, sidestepped questions about a Democratic primary Tuesday at a news conference.
"I am not going to get into 2010 discussions," Casey said. "I just think its premature today. We're very happy about this, but I am not going to answer any questions about support."
Rep. Joe Sestak, another Pennsylvania Democrat, is said to be considering a run for Senate. On Tuesday, he said Specter would need to prove himself to his new party. "I think he’s going to have to address two questions," he said on MSNBC. "First, when I got into politics, I really ran for something, not against someone. And so it became pretty tough for him. But in a sense he’s shifting parties because he found it hard to run against someone. So I’m interested to see what he’s running for...
He also said Specter would not have his immediate support. "I’m going to have to wait. Because if the alternative is Toomey, that’s one issue. In my mind this is an extremely important moment in the sense of accountable leadership. [Here] a decision has been made that it’s easier to run somewhere else, and so we’ve got to make a decision, is that the type of individual we want to take us forward?"