- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sen. Arlen Specter is running out of political parties he can leap to.

After switching from Republican to Democrat to avoid a tough primary rival on the right, Mr. Specter now faces a challenge on the left from Democrat Rep. Joe Sestak.

Mr. Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral, made official Tuesday his entry in the Pennsylvania race for U.S. Senate after toying with the idea for months.

In a speech that echoed President Obama on the stump, Mr. Sestak promised “change” in tackling the problems that face Pennsylvania and the nation.

“There is an opportunity, if we act now with vision and resolve to root out those problems that are so endemic in our financial and our tax system, where it seems just the more well-to-do benefit,” Mr. Sestak, 57, told a crowd gathered for the announcement at a VFW post in his suburban Philadelphia district.

“Most importantly [we must] reclaim those core principles, particularly in Washington, D.C., of hard work, of honesty and accountability, so once again principle triumphs over politics,” Mr. Sestak said, with his wife, Susan, by his side.

Still, the two-term congressman jumped into the race in defiance of Mr. Obama and other top Democrats, including Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who wanted to insulate the party’s incumbents to protect Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

Mr. Specter, 79, who switched parties in April after five terms as a Republican, came out swinging against the fellow Democrat.

“His months of indecisiveness on his candidacy raises a real question as to his competency to handle the tough rapid-fire decisions required of a senator,” Specter campaign manager Christopher Nicholas said.

He also criticized Mr. Sestak for missing 105 House votes this year, the most of any member of the Pennsylvania delegation. “He should explain why, when Pennsylvanians are working harder, he can barely show up for work,” Mr. Nicholas said.

The Specter campaign also provided reporters with quotes from a half-dozen high-ranking Pennsylvania Democrats who bemoaned Mr. Sestak’s decision.

“While the Pennsylvania Democratic Party welcomes Congressman Sestak to the race, he has an uphill climb against Senator Specter, the incumbent Democrat,” state Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said, noting that Mr. Specter is the front-runner and enjoys “the full support and financial commitment” of the party establishment.

But Mr. Sestak has bucked the Democratic Party establishment before and won. He first ran for Congress in 2006 against the wishes of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, only to defeat veteran incumbent Republican Rep. Curt Weldon 56 percent to 44 percent.

Mr. Specter has a clear money advantage at this point. But Mr. Sestak proved himself an able fundraiser in 2006 and has enough in his war chest to launch a competitive run. He also has the eager backing of many liberal Democrats who remain suspicious of Mr. Specter.

Republican Pat Toomey, whose entry in the race helped convince Mr. Specter to become a Democrat, welcomed Mr. Sestak to the contest.

“Pennsylvania Democrats will make an important choice between Joe Sestak, a consistent liberal who really believes in his values, and Arlen Specter, a career political opportunist who believes in nothing but his own re-election,” the Toomey campaign said in a statement distributed to the press.

“Regardless of the decision they make, in next November’s general election, Pennsylvanians will face a clear choice between one candidate, Sestak or Specter, who supports unprecedented Washington spending, bailouts of Wall Street banks and car companies, and government control of health care decisions; and Pat Toomey, who would bring some much-needed political balance and fiscal restraint to Washington,” the campaign statement said.

Recent polls show a close race between Mr. Specter and Mr. Toomey, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and former president of the conservative Club for Growth. Mr. Specter led Mr. Sestak by double digits.

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