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. rachel

    I hope specter loses, wonder why president Obama went for him.

    May 18, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  2. Rickster

    C'mon Pennsylvania, do the right thing.......kick Arlen Sphincter's rear end out of office. He stinks.

    May 18, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Don't count arlen out with the econmony moving ever so slow,jobs starting to pick up spells doom for the republicans they just don't know it yet,you just can't say no to everything and expect to win elections no body is that stupid except the repugs.

    May 18, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. stevegee

    Bye-bye Benedict Arlen!

    May 18, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  5. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    I had hoped that Sestak would be patient and wait his turn. At any rate, whichever democrat wins the primary, I hope can unite the party for November. Toomey's brand of conservatism is like a crap sandwich without the bread.

    May 18, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  6. Darb Pa

    Maybe you can put the word "attempted" before the words "terrorist attacks", John from PA. As far as I know 2 didn't happen and if your 3rd one is the Ft. Hood doctor, it's kind of hard to keep a weapon away from a military man...

    May 18, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  7. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Hopefully then the Republican will beat Sestak since he is pro labor/union. He represents the biggest bunch of corrupt slime in the country.

    May 18, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  8. as an american

    John , PA

    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 !

    @ John, do realizes buddy that the liberals have called for jail tim of the entire previous admin right...i'm sure it has nothing to do with that. Go hate somewhere else some people want to actually make this country better. oh and by the way the majority of the info you gave in your upset childish rant isn't really factual at all. If conservatives want war lets just throw the guntlet down already.

    May 18, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  9. William, from Cali

    If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything! I quote..."I changed get re-elected"... Hopefully, the "smart people of the state", will change him to... unemployed or retired!

    May 18, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  10. ben san roda

    Specter's loss will send a message loud and clear–we are sick and tired of his kind.

    May 18, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  11. Capt. Snarky

    HeY, while we are on the subject of Spectre – Make sure you ask the President and AG Holder about that "deal" they tried to swing with SLeeestack about dropping his bid in favor of Spectre – Why no investigation in progress?????????

    Spectre need retirement, Pennsylvania, give it to him......................

    May 18, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  12. Steve- Illinois

    Blaming it on the weather? Now that's a stretch!!!

    May 18, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Voters are fickle. They tend to make the wrong decisions when the act- not vote – on impulse rather than on the background of a candidate.
    If they liked Arlen three weeks ago, then his record has not changed since then and they should vote for him today.
    Unfortunately by reading thse posts you can see that thought about a candidate is not what drice elections- blanket, all encompassing statements about all politicains are.
    Vote the record, not the party or the frustration- that's what got us here in the first place!

    May 18, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  14. Bob in PA

    Specter should have been out last go-around. He was a so-so Senator then, much worse now. So long Mr. Specter.

    May 18, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  15. BeverlyNC

    I do believe all Republicans should be swept for office for their treason to America in calling for us to fail, doing nothing all year but spreading lies, hate, and racism, and for voting against every single thing designed to help working families. They also only support large corporations and deregulated them all under Bush. We see how well that went with the banks, the insurance companies, and now the oil companies destroying the Gulf of Mexico with arrogance and snide indifference.

    I don't think people should just vote out a person because they are an incumbent. Many Democrats have worked hard all year drafting legislation that fights for the working class – jobs bill, stimulus that has created over 350K new jobs, cut taxes, extended unemployment, stopped home foreclosures, raised pay for military families, and got money to small businesses when the the big banks lied and did not extend credit to these businesses. We got healthcare and when the lies the Republicans told are exposed, most Americans are going to be very happy with what the healthcare law brings to them.

    Stop and consider who stood up for you and who worked against you when you go and vote.

    May 18, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  16. barbara

    he is exactly why this country needs term limits. when most people "cant wait" to retire after 20-30 years, we get people like arlen who reufse to leave except in a box. Of course who wouldnt want this easy pie job for life, all one has to do is go to wrok and talk. thats it. talk. no heavy lifting, no physical fatique and all else that make sthe common man want to hurry up and retire so that he can enjoy his golden years. NO politican should ever be allowed to hold office for more than 20 years. After that amount of time, a politician no longer does the bidding of the constituency and rather does everything he can for him or herself. We have too many "old, white haired men" in office and its time for them to go.

    May 18, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  17. Michael from Ventura

    Oh John- GET A LIFE! The President will be re-elected by a huge margin -and as far as Specter goes- well, he should..GO.

    May 18, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  18. Greg Pottstown PA

    John , PA May 18th, 2010 12:39 pm ET

    Very few will be voting for those in the Democratic Party. The election is today and you can kiss Specter GOOD BYE._______________________

    Could not agree more!! however Specter would not get reelected In nov no mater what party he was running with.

    May 18, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  19. Marcus Mead

    The man was only interested in himself.

    Send him home.

    May 18, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  20. Larry

    The anti-incumbent spirit is the best thing that has happened to this country in 30 years.

    Career, corrupt politicians, you're history!

    May 18, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  21. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Thanks for your vote on the stimulus bill Arlen. Now kick rocks! You are more interested in keeping your job than serving the people. Besides, you're pretty old dude.

    May 18, 2010 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  22. Wisconsinite

    While I agree that there is an incredible anti-incumbent fever gripping much of the electorate, I just don't see Specter's problem as a part of that fever. Look, there is a grand canyon of difference between Democratic and Republican ideology. Specter first professed to have the Dem ideology, that is until the Reps offered him a better deal. Then, lo and behold, he professed to have the Republican ideology for 40 some years. Then, he can't win an election as a Rep, so oops . . . it's back to the Democratic ideology he goes! This is NOT anti-incumbent fever that's got Arlen on the ropes . . . it's good old-fashioned informed DEMOCRATIC voters who are saying "YO . . . ARLEN . . . WE DON'T WANT YOU IN OUR PARTY!"

    May 18, 2010 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  23. Miss Cleo

    @PalmReader May 18th, 2010 12:43 pm ET
    Well, Arlene, you served yourself well over the past 30 years . . . Bye now *****Senator Specter is a GOOD and Honest Man*****Sestak Is a

    May 18, 2010 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  24. A.B.

    The people of Pennsylvainia have to make an important decision: Do they re-elect and retain a phony Democrat such as Spector or do they go for the real deal Democrat and elect Mr. Joe Sestak. Sestak is a true Democrat who has integrity and honor which Arlen Spector lacks. Spector abandoned the Democratic Party, joined the Republican Party and voted with George W Bush 95% of the time on Bush Administration policies which were responsible for the economic mess that the country finds it self in. Now Spector comes crawling back to the Democrats after falling out of favor with the Republicans so that he can keep his senate seat. Arlen Spector is part of the problem and should be voted out of office immediately.

    May 18, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  25. Eric

    "Anti-incumbent wind, rain could sweep Specter from office"

    You can bet your a... er, uh, I mean "donkey" it will.

    But I warn, don't feel smug or comfortable, big-spending Dubya RINO republicans... that wind is going to blow you out of office, too.

    May 18, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
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