WASHINGTON (CNN) – Democrats are headed for a tough primary fight in Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday, telling CNN he was ready to go “toe to toe” with primary opponent Rep. Joe Sestak.
Specter said Sestak was wrong to question the Republican-turned-Democratic incumbent’s allegiance to his new party, adding that his voting record had always leaned Democratic. “President Obama thinks that my principles and values are right in line with his, which is why he's backing me, and Joe Biden and Ed Rendell,” he told CNN’s John King on “State of the Union.”
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“When Congressman Sestak starts to throw stones, he lives in a big glass house. The guy has the worst voting record in the Congress from the Pennsylvania delegation. He's missed 104 votes this year. He talks about his military record. If he was still in the service, he would be a court martial, and he's been AWOL, absent without leave.
“Now, I don't want to get involved in brickbats, and I'd rather talk about the issues, but if Congressman Sestak wants to go negative, I'm prepared to battle him toe to toe.”
A recent Quinnipiac poll suggested the Pennsylvania senator maintains a significant lead over Sestak, although his advantage over likely Republican opponent Pat Toomey has all but vanished. Specter downplayed the survey. “There's only one poll that counts. And I've been in a lot of elections and a lot of primaries, and I didn't ask the president to clear the field,” he said. “I'm prepared to take on all comers. And I think that when the final tallies are in, I feel confident.”
While many of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are holding the line against a government-run health care option, Specter said he wasn’t among them — and he didn’t think the idea was dead yet.
“I believe that a public option would be very helpful, but it's true that are there are many who don't agree with that,” he said. “And there is exploration on an idea of a co-op advanced by Senator Kent Conrad. You have to remember this, John. We do not yet have a bill. It has not been formalized. Sen. Schumer came out several weeks ago with the idea that the public option ought to maintain a level playing field. And I think when we see the specifics, we may well find sufficient votes. All of that has yet to be determined when we really get down to brass tacks and see the details.”
Specter — who received a tough reception at a recent Philadelphia-area health care town hall with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius — dismissed the impact of recent tumult at the events.
“There's no doubt that the boos and catcalls were orchestrated, but there were many people there who wanted to talk about health care, and I didn't take the boos personally,” he said. “Listen, in a democracy, you can be orchestrated. It's just unfortunate that so much time was spent away from the issues, but in my line of work, you have to be prepared for whatever comes.”