May 16th, 2010
01:17 PM ET
11 years ago

Sestak: Specter's 'a poster child' for what's wrong in Washington

(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.

Related: Specter takes on Sestak, explains party switch

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 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.”

Filed under: 2010 • Arlen Specter • Joe Sestak • Pennsylvania • Popular Posts • State of the Union
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Nunya

    "what's gone wrong in Washington... politicians who think that they can take a position not based upon conviction or core beliefs, but about their electoral prospects."

    Uh, wrong...

    What's wrong with Washington these days is pretty much exactly the opposite – politicians who are so hardnosed in their beliefs that they are unwilling to compromise in the least and unwilling to represent the views of their constituents even if they don't agree with them.

    May 16, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  2. ladybug

    No, Joe Sestak, you won't win this one. And MoveOn.Org is wrong to back you. It's alright; they will soon need my help again, but they sure won't get it.

    May 16, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. IKHAN

    The dis-enchantment of this nation with incumbents is due to Americans waking up to reality.
    We realize now that those occupying the corridors of power in Washington for decades have sold out this country to lobbies, special interest groups, corporate behemoths & allies.
    Entrenched irreversibly in biases , personal ideology, fixations & they have over time developed a blurred view of the world, which is in conflict with our geo-political & economic interests.

    We crave a change for more progressive visionaries & real statesmen to lead us.

    May 16, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  4. washington as usual...

    Sen Bennett saying on Cnn ...four years ago I had a 97% approval rate and now I got 27% and yet I'm still doing the same old thing...Bennett and others are just not getting it..."Doing the same old thing" this is why Washington is broken....they are not working for the People...........................................................................................................!

    May 16, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  5. Just One Guy's Opinion

    Sestak can beat the republican candidate; Spector can not.

    it's that simple.

    May 16, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  6. Slider

    “This is absolutely not about President Obama,” Sestak said in the interview.

    Actually, it is about Obama and the Democrat Party policies.

    “We are going to win, because the working families are the ones that win when we do win.”

    You're going to lose because you and your party continue to harp upon the mythical 'working family' nonsense.

    In case you haven't noticed Sestak, we are ALL WORKING FAMILIES, and there are FEWER OF US when your Democrats took over Congress and when we elected Obama.

    2006 and 2008 were a referendum on the firing of Republicans.

    2010 will be yours and the Democrat Party, Sestak.

    May 16, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Larry

    I couldn't agree with Sestak more. Specter has been in Washingtonm since the '60's. Another career politician who knows how to cater to special interests and get his pockets padded by them.

    We need term limits on politicians. Eight years and out!

    May 16, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  8. Sammy

    Let's get this straight, he was relieved, i.e. fired, by the Navy. Palin quit as governor. These are the kind of folks you want as elected, government officials? We need them like the Gulf needs another hope in the pipe.

    May 16, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  9. Jim Bob

    Where was Sestak while the Bush gang politically ravaged our country? That's the poster-child!

    May 16, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  10. Steven P

    Specter is a condescending blow hard. The only loyalty he has is to himself, not his constituents, and not his party (whichever one it is today).

    Personally, I think the two party system sucks. There will be a time when a third party, just by it's presence and viability, will force more honesty out of the Democrat and Republican parties. Dems & Reps enable each other.

    May 16, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  11. Gil

    What is wrong in DC is not Mr. Specter! It is the right wing nuts who obey banks and big business and disregard the welfare of the American people. Having 40 million Americans without health insurance was a disgrace and what do these right wing nuts say, "We have the best health care in the world!" We rank something like twentieth in truth! More lies out of the Party of No is what is killing us! Just keep Sarah talking and the moderates in the republican party will be fed up. It could be the end of the "God Ofaul Party." I hope!

    May 16, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  12. Gil

    Win or lose I hope that Sestak remembers the roots of the Democratic Party and does not listen to anyone who offers only NO, NO NO as the answers to America's problems. Turn a deaf ear to the radical right wing nut cases and their calls which only means they are uneducated to the topics that they are giving any opinions to!

    May 16, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  13. Jane

    Too many of us remember Specter's participation in the attempt to disgrace Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. That revealed quite a bit about Specter the man, and I would never again have voted for him.

    May 16, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  14. Dan

    When we have him switch party just to undo the will of the people, just to support all activities that do not lead to job creation, to economy recovery and to safety on the boarders and against the extreme terrorists, then of course he is big part of the reason of what is wrong in the last almost two years (and he joined Democrats who ruled congress two years before that!)

    May 16, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    I hope PA does the right thing and helps this country get rid of career politicians.

    We need people that work for US, not Corporations and not their own bank accounts.

    May 16, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  16. ib

    Spector is only one of a bunch that need to go both GOP and demo's.

    May 16, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. Fed Up

    Amen! Vote 'em in. Vote 'em out.

    May 16, 2010 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  18. FatSean

    Pennslyvania, a state that can't get by without free Federal money at the expense of NY, NJ, CT, etc...

    May 16, 2010 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  19. Charlie in Maine

    One of the three things that Ronald Reagan ever got right was his eleventh commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans."

    Democrats should learn from that. Let's face it Dems: Arlen Spector did us a huge favor and should be rewarded for it, not condemed. If this other guy thinks he could do a better job, by all means let's hear about it. But don't build your self up at his expense because either he will win the primary and you will need to support him or you will win and need his support. Either way it's like my Mam said " Make your word soft and sweet because you might end up having to eat them"

    May 16, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  20. normajean

    "WASHINGTON'S BROKEN"? Well,if it is then we surely know who broke it. If you win this position Mr. Sestak , we certainly hope that you and our party can stop playing personality games and get in there .and FIX it. While the Repubs have sat on their hands for almost two years doing nothing, the president has been fighting all comers trying to fix five or six major problems in our country, being criticized on all sides, even his own party could have done a lot more to get things going back to normal {whatever that is}.I hope you are as strong in reality as you are ln an interview onTV..

    May 16, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  21. kww

    If Sestak wins, he won't be in office six months before he's an incumbent, too. Regardless of who we elect, the siren song of lobbyists with their easy money is too hard to resist.

    I say we set term limits and ban all lobbying.

    May 16, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  22. chill

    Sestak is more of an example of what's wrong with Washington. He and Toomey are representative of the wings of the parties that will never work across the aisle or com[promise to get things done. He's a 51-49 election with a mandate for nothing but ignoring big problems. We keep talkign about the lack of bipartisanship- well then elect the most bipartisan guy. And that's Specter by longshot!

    May 16, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  23. Bill1234

    I think Rep. Sestak will win the this primary too.

    Good Luck Rep. Sestak!

    May 16, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  24. Annie, Atlanta

    What I don't understand is why the Democratic Party is getting behind Specter. There are no guarantees, just like Lieberman, that this guy isn't going to turn tail and run back to the GOP if he's re-elected. He only switched because he must like that cushy life we taxpayers provide him. I certainly wouldn't take a chance on him, but that's just me.

    May 16, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Spector is at best a moderate- what the Senate needs of of form both sides. Maybe then they will start listening to each other like they did in the past.
    If this group odf ultra conservatives get in all the social programs will be cut, but not the budget- they never have int he past and won't now.
    And can someone please explain to me how a tax cut helps anybody in thei finanacial situation? Less revenue means higher national debt.
    More money in the pockets of big bisness does not mean jobs, it means higher profits for wealthy stockholders. Even the small business man right now is not going to hire more people if no one is spending money- he is going to try and stay afloat and go back to his old lifestlye. When you last got a raise- did you hire a new gardener or housekeeper? Nope- you pocketed the money. So do businesses.

    May 16, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
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