May 18th, 2010
12:25 PM ET
12 years ago

Anti-incumbent wind, rain could sweep Specter from office


Arlen Specter is in a fight for his political life. (Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) – The rain is falling 150 miles north of the nation's capital on this Tuesday, likely dampening the much needed get-out-the-vote effort for Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who is in jeopardy of being swept out office after serving 30 years on Capitol Hill.

The winds of anti-incumbency blew into Pennsylvania over the past few weeks and Specter watched his once-commanding lead over Democratic primary rival Rep. Joe Sestak disappear.

Why the weather analogies? Because there hasn't been a member of Congress who has had a more stormy 12 months on Capitol Hill than Specter, the gruff and unpredictable Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat who is known in Washington and beyond as "Snarlin' Arlen."

Specter is 80 years old, but for Democrats in 2009 he was the new 60, the parliamentary crowbar Democrats needed to help muscle President Obama's controversial policies past Republican opposition in the Senate.

Specter's decision to abandon the GOP in April 2009 effectively gave Democrats that 60th vote. Democrats would have to wait until the contested Minnesota Senate race was resolved in early summer, but that was more of a formality. Democrat Al Franken's victory over GOP Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota handed Democrats the 59th vote – it was Specter's defection that made the GOP by and large powerless.

Specter was quickly embraced by the White House and the Democratic establishment.

"I have told him that he will have my full support in the Democratic primary," Obama said the day after Specter switched his party affiliation. "Joe Biden has said the same thing. We are confident that Arlen Specter is going to get a sixth term in the Senate and the American people are going to be better off for it."

A week in politics is a lifetime, let alone a year ago when Obama made the prediction that Specter would win re-election. What Obama and Democrats didn't count on was a primary challenge from Sestak, who had been actively recruited to run against Specter, until, of course, Specter switched parties.

Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was not deterred and launched a longshot bid to dethrone one of Pennsylvania's most powerful political figures in recent time. But public polling shows that Sestak has surged as Specter has fallen and now the Democratic Senate nomination is up for grabs.

If Specter loses, expect a major storyline Wednesday to be whether Obama has lost his golden political touch. His track record as of late has not been so good.

Despite the president's 11th-hour visit to Massachusetts in January, Attorney General Martha Coakley lost the special election to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat. Another trip a few months earlier to try and save New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine also failed. And while Obama resisted heading north to Pennsylvania on a late rescue mission for Specter, he is still tied to this former Republican-turned-Democrat and Republicans are itching to highlight it.

But Specter can still win. You don't count out a centrist Republican, who has survived 30 years standing in the crossfire of GOP and Democratic politics.

The question Tuesday will be whether Sestak's plea for change will be propelled by the anti-incumbent winds. And Specter, who acknowledges the African-American vote in Philadelphia is key to his victory, must be praying for the rain to stop or that everyone has an umbrella.

Filed under: 2010 • Arlen Specter • Joe Sestak • Pennsylvania • Pennsylvania Senate
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Fed Up

    Hopefully, it will sweep all the incumbents away. One can only hope. Vote 'em in. Vote 'em out.

    May 18, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  2. gt

    good.. arlen was just for arlen... retire old man....

    May 18, 2010 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  3. paul

    buhbye specter... reap your reward... I'm sure that corporate America will fall all over themselves for a senior leader who has the potential to make radical, self serving decisions....

    May 18, 2010 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. Victim of GOP Taliban

    I admire Specter's tenacity...but Sestak has the better pro-labor/union track record. Not to mention was an Admiral.

    May 18, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  5. Lori

    we need new blood, Republicans and Democrats.

    May 18, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. Fair is Fair

    never liked him when he was a republican... don't like him now. Sayonara, Arlen. Take some of your new party buddies with you.

    May 18, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. John , PA

    Very few will be voting for those in the Democratic Party. The election is today and you can kiss Specter GOOD BYE. IF the national election were today, the community organizer / social worker president would not win. The Republicans can hang the economy and health care on the Democrats and we can vote them out of office. In 1994 historians say the Democrat loses was a slaughter; the 2010 and 2012 election cycle is going to be a massacre.

    Let’s review
    higher unemployment
    higher taxes
    higher home foreclosure rate
    tax evading Democratic Party
    tax evading Obama administration
    the “Porkulus” Spending bill
    out of control budget
    health care reform disaster
    3 terrorist attacks in the USA since Obama took office

    After the 2010 election, the next Conservative Congresses first duty will be to hold all of the existing or retired Representatives or Senators accountable as criminals, It jail time for these criminals !

    May 18, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. PalmReader

    Well, Arlene, you served yourself well over the past 30 years . . . Bye now.

    May 18, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Steve- Illinois

    Best thing that could happen is for Specter to be retired! He's been around 30 years!!! This guy is the poster child for what's wrong in Washington! Can't win a primary? Change parties! It's all about Specter, always has been, always will be!
    New blood! New ideas! New direction!!!

    Common Sense!

    May 18, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. smarter than you

    he has been and will continue to be one of the greatest Americans ever to walk these lands.

    May 18, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  11. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I don't care if he is a Democrat and we'd lose one in the House, wash him out to sea. I don't trust him. Bye.

    Fair is fair: play the lottery, we actually agree on this one.

    May 18, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  12. Carrotroot

    Specter's age is his biggest liability more than any of his policies.

    May 18, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  13. GI Joe

    John in PA

    Hey, fella - take your meds.

    You've been listening to FOX and Lying Palin way too long.

    Feel for your family havng to watch you behave so badly. AND IN PUBLIC !!

    May 18, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  14. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    John in PA: are you for real? You list contains a few lies (if you worked, you would know that taxes under Obama went down), 3 terrorist attacks (there were almost 200 domestic terrorist attacks in Bush's first two years of office), and the rest are wishful things that you and Fox hope happens to hurt Americans. Conservatism can only survive if people are uninformed or ignorant.

    May 18, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  15. ginsberg

    Arlen Spector is one of the brightest members of Congress. We are fortunate to have him representing us. I worked with Leonard W. Levy, one of the foremost Constitutional scholars and corresponded with Spector. The fact that he switched parties so late in his career speaks to his integrity and his dedication to serving the American people. It will be a crime if he is voted out of office and just one more example of the power of lobbies, emotionally charged movements and corruption in American politics.

    May 18, 2010 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. jim

    I think all the politicians in Washington need to change the American Flag pin that they wear on their jackets – to a pin of a dollar sign. After all, isn't that what they really care about?

    May 18, 2010 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. Felonious Monk

    A member of both parties, a member of the party of Arlen

    May 18, 2010 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  18. Marlene

    What is the normal retirement age – 65? We have 22 Senators that are over the age of 71. Does old, white men ring a bell? Voters aren't dumb, as one can't spend decades being in one party and suddenly switch them and have anyone believe it was for any other reason than self preservation. His time is past! Marlene in Mich

    May 18, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |

    You betcha! He's gone. All OBAMA supporters will be gone come 2012.

    May 18, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  20. Jack in Des Moines

    Specter needs to go. He only changed parties in a bid to retain his office, demonstrating that his only political belief is that he believes he should stay in office indefinately.

    May 18, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  21. Joe in PA

    The major story line when Specter loses should have nothing to do with Obama. Democrats vote in Democratric primaries for Democrats. That willl be the story line! Not one Democrat I talked to planned to vote fro Specter. Repubs would be wise to think this through. This is not a rejection of Obama or his administration. It is a rejection of Specter as a republican. It is preparation for keeping the fool Toomey out of office in November. Trust that the Democrats will be energized on that initiative.

    May 18, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  22. usualone

    So what was so great about the 8 years before President Obama took office? Nada!

    May 18, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  23. Washington has failed us

    Time for this (and other) career politicians to retire. They have fattened themselves off the people for too long.

    May 18, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. deb0155

    Goodbye and good riddens!

    May 18, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  25. SocialismBad

    I hope and pray that today is the LAST TIME I see the face of this despicable slimy weasel on the ticker! How ANYONE in PA could vote for this self-serving fossil is beyond me!! COME PA, YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS DIRTBAG!! Do your job and clean house!

    May 18, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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