How Arlen Specter's Electoral Outlook Got So Grim

He's down in both the Democratic primary and general election

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Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has had quite a political career. In 1965, he switched parties from Democratic to Republican to win the election to become Philadelphia district attorney. Elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1980, he switched back to being a Democrat in 2009. Now his prospects aren't looking too good in the November election. He faces an increasingly close Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak and an outright deficit in the polls against likely Republican candidate Rep. Pat Toomey. How did things get this bad?

  • Too Close To Call  Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz reads this morning's fresh polls. He says they "could be a sign that Specter has halted Sestak's momentum, but it's important not to read too much into these numbers. Each spread is within the margin of error, so this thing is just too close to call."
  • The Price of Bipartisanship  Open Left's Chris Bowers follows Specter's political life as an establishment-beloved moderate who, due to a strongly bipartisan record, can count the support of Presidents Bush and Obama. But Bowers asks, "Do voters actually bipartisanship" or is the cost too high? "Really, its pretty impressive to get the entire political establishment of both parties to try and defend you from your own constituents. It is doubtful that there is any current member of the U.S. Senate that the institutional status quo loves more, and has done more to support, than Arlen Specter."
  • The Price of Political Short-Sightedness  Five Thirty Eight's Nate Silver sighs, "it's not as though the minds of Pennsylvania Democrats are hard to read. Specter, although he's compiled a reliably liberal voting record since Sestak's challenge began, seems to be motivated primarily by political expediency."
  • Specter Should Have Run Independent  Salon's Steve Kornacki says that would have allowed him to channel his moderate support within both parties without alienating any particular half. "With multiple challengers, Specter would probably be in a better position to prevail next week."
  • Specter's Loss Will Set Up 'Clearly Ideological Battle'  Commentary's Jonathan Tobin concludes that Specter "is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November." With neither candidate an incumbent, the election won't be tilted by anti-incumbent sentiment.
  • This Shouldn't Be Surprising  Former Time and Atlantic writer Matthew Cooper scoffs, "We're shocked that in an anti-incumbent year an octogenarian who's been in office 30 years and switched parties is in danger? Really?"
  • The Kagan Vote Could Sink Him  The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer notes that Specter, when he was a Republican, voted against Elana Kagan's 2009 nomination for Solicitor General, but now says he will vote for her nomination for the Supreme Court. "You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: 'I prefer to tell the truth. It's easier to memorize.'"
  • ...Don't Count On That  Wonkette's Jim Newell dissents, "Then again, do any voters really care about Arlen Specter’s vote in a mid-major confirmation process last year, when they’re currently unemployed?" Newell notes that Specter likely only voted against Kagan because, as a Republican, he was under extreme pressure to do so, and that pressure is probably exactly why he switched parties.
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