(CNN) – Two days before voters go to the polls in Pennsylvania’s closely watched Democratic Senate primary, Rep. Joe Sestak predicted Sunday he will emerge victorious over longtime Sen. Arlen Specter, partly because of the public’s anti-incumbent, anti-Washington mood.
Specter left the Republican Party last year and became a Democrat in the hopes of bettering his chances of re-election in November and because he felt the GOP was becoming more conservative. Beginning with President Obama, Specter was embraced by the Democratic establishment but in recent days Sestak has picked up the support of liberal MoveOn.org in his primary challenge to the ex-Republican. The latest polls show Sestak, once the underdog against Specter’s 30 years of incumbency, is now in a virtual tie with him and running competitively in a possible general election match-up against the likely Republican nominee.
In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Sestak said Specter exemplifies the public’s criticisms of Washington.
“Well, I think it's a race that actually, where everybody knows Washington's broken,” the two-term congressman told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “And everybody knows that if you're going to still send back to Washington, D.C. a career politician that actually would switch his party, as he said, to keep his job and we're not going to fix the mess that we got into by sending him back.
“And, so, yes, he's a poster child for what's gone wrong in Washington, D.C. - a generation of politicians who think that they can take a position not based upon conviction or core beliefs, but about their electoral prospects.
“So it is time, people say, for a different generation, a new generation, new ideas, new energy and someone who would be willing to lose their job over doing what's right for the people of Pennsylvania.”
Saying he was committed to acting on principle, Sestak rejected any suggestion that he too is a Washington insider. And, pointing to the GOP’s upset win in a Massachusetts special Senate election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sestak told Crowley the anti-incumbent fervor in the country was directed at both parties.
“I really do think that Massachusetts said it very clearly for everyone - pox on both your houses down there. We voted for change, not just in policy, but politics. They are tired - people are tired of this old retread tired politics of old,” said Sestak.
He added, “Look, I want to go to Washington and I want to be a public servant who does principled compromise, but not a compromise of principle.”
And, notwithstanding the president's backing of Specter, Sestak told Crowley he does not think the anti-incumbent mood of the country was attributable to liberals being upset with the direction of the Obama administration.
“This is absolutely not about President Obama,” Sestak said in the interview.
A Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan and helped the Navy develop post-9/11 strategies for the war on terrorism, Sestak refused to entertain the possibility of defeat in Tuesday’s primary vote. Asked whether he would throw his support behind Specter if he loses next week, Sestak replied, “What I know is this, that, in a war, you always know you're going to succeed. And so I'm going to win and I'm looking forward to Senator Specter's support after the eighteenth of May.”
Sestak refused to be pinned down when pressed by Crowley on whether he would close ranks behind Specter should the incumbent senator win the Democratic nomination.
“Never deal with something that's not going to happen,” he responded. “We are going to win, because the working families are the ones that win when we do win.”
Sestak, who rose to the rank of three-star admiral in the Navy, also defended his military record against attacks from Specter, including a claim in a recent campaign ad that Sestak was "relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate," a charge Specter based on a Navy Times newspaper report that cited Sestak's alleged "tempermental and demanding" leadership style.
Sestak’s campaign has criticized that ad for its “swift boat” tactics like those used by fellow Vietnam veterans to allegedly smear Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, in his 2004 presidential bid. Sestak told Crowley Sunday that Specter's campaign ad spoke to the senator's character.
“I believe principle matters,” said Sestak. “And for Arlen Specter to use false assertions says more about him and what he'll do, besides just switch a party. He'll just say whatever he wants in order to keep his job. We're not going to have it here in Pennsylvania.”
Asked by Crowley why he doesn’t simply release his Navy records to put the matter to rest, Sestak said, “I don't owe Arlen Specter anything. My [military] record is public.”