- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

In defiance of President Obama’s support for newly-turned Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter’s re-election run, Rep. Joe Sestak said he is getting ready to jump into the 2010 Senate race in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Sestak’s entry in the Democratic primary would confound moves by the Obama White House to insulate the party’s incumbents for a key election season in which Democrats hope to cement a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in Senate.

Mr. Sestak said Thursday that he was “very close” to announcing a Senate run and would not be dissuaded by Mr. Obama or other top Democrats.

“I was very uneasy with the Democratic Party’s Washington political establishment making a decision in Washington, D.C., to anoint someone for the Pennsylvanians to have as their nominee,” he told The Washington Times.

He said he had not been contacted by White House about the race. But regardless of the president’s plea, he said his final decision will be made based on what he thinks is best for his family and for the state, including whether Mr. Specter is a reliable champion of the Democratic agenda.

“We need a warrior out there to fight for in a consistent way, [but that] does not appear to be the one that is in the arena,” he said.

Mr. Specter’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. Obama succeeded in clearing the field for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is up for election after being appointed this year to finish the Senate term of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The president persuaded Rep. Steve Israel to pull the plug on his fledgling Senate campaign. Mr. Israel said he agreed to bow out to help provide “a united front for progressive change.”

In addition to a possible primary fight with Mr. Sestak, Mr. Specter must contend with slipping poll numbers since he switched parties on April 28. He made the switch after almost 30 years as a Senate Republican to avoid a tough Republican primary challenge from anti-tax crusader Pat Toomey.

Mr. Specter’s lead over Mr. Toomey, a former House member from Pennsylvania, fell to less than 10 points - 46 percent to 37 percent - in a general election matchup, according to a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey released Thursday.

Mr. Specter, a five-term senator, enjoyed a 20-point lead in the university’s May 4 poll.

In a Democratic primary, the poll showed Mr. Specter beating Mr. Sestak 50 percent to 21 percent.

“He’s still better off than he would have been if he stayed a Republican and faced a tough primary challenge from [Mr. Toomey],” said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the polling institute. “Now that he’s got President Barack Obama and [Pennsylvania] Gov. Ed Rendell on his side, Specter should be able to hold the edge over the conservative Republican.”

Mr. Specter also has a fundraising lead. He had $6.7 million in his war chest when the last campaign-finance reports were filed in April.

Mr. Sestak, who says he is aggressively fundraising for his Senate bid, nevertheless complicates the mix.

He 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.

Mr. Obama and other top Democrats, including Mr. Rendell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have pledge Mr. Specter their support. They will be helping him raise money, set up a Democratic campaign organization and possibly appear with him on the stump.

“I think everyone would like to have President Obama’s endorsement,” Mr. Sestak said. “But at the end of the day that is not how people ultimately decide. … I wouldn’t get into this if I did not think that one could not prevail.”

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