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Notes on an Election

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 By Tom Ferrick Jr.

 Four items about the upcoming May 18th primary election. 

One. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the Specter-Sestak campaign has devolved into minutiae, with Specter slapping around his challenger over small matters.  That's because when it comes to substance - to quote George Wallace -- there's probably not a dimes worth of difference between the two Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate.  I imagine that if you fast-forwarded three years and looked at the voting record of whoever holds the seat, it would be identical - or close to it.

In Congress, Sestak votes consistently liberal Democrat and would in the Senate.  Now that he is a Democrat, Specter has embraced the party line with the passion of a convert. As someone said, he is more Obama than Obama.

With no strong ideological differences, the race is going to hinge on other matters: Sestak's ability as a campaigner (not so good); Specter's age (not so young) and the ability of one candidate to define the other. To date, Specter is ahead in that game.  He went after Sestak with negative ads early and often and has enough to keep it up until May 18.

As to Sestak, he's aired a 60-second biographical piece, but hasn't said anything bad about his opponent where it counts: on TV.  I would be flabbergasted if he doesn't, but I've been flabbergasted before. If he does, the race will tighten.

In a sense, this may come down to a strategic vote on the part of Democratic primary voters.  Their main consideration may not be which candidate is best but which candidate has the best chance of beating Republican Pat Toomey in the fall.

Postscript: Sestak is lucky that not many people watched his Saturday televised debate against Specter.  Joe Baer, who moderated the debate, said Specter won it hands down and I agree. He was like an old rottweiler. He arrived with fangs out and kept at it the whole hour. Sestak looked both uncomfortable and unnatural, as if someone coached him to ooze niceness.  Instead, he just oozed. It was like watching a medicated Mister Rogers.

 

Two. The most interesting thing about the Democratic gubernatorial race is that there isn't much that is interesting about it.  Voters don't seem juiced about it and if Dan Onorato is ahead - which the latest polls confirm - it's more because he's spent more money on TV ads than his rivals, who haven't spent much at all.  If he wins, it won't be because he's a giant.  He'll just be the tallest midget.

No surprise, each candidate has embraced reform (Is there anyone out there against reform? If you are serving time in a federal prison, you are ineligible to vote.). Oddly, the institution they want to reform the most is the Pennsylvania Legislature, with recommendations on term limits, reducing the size of the House or Senate , reining in on the Bonusgate abuses. Oddly, if elected, the institution they would have the least control over is the legislature. It's that separation of powers thing.

 Three. Talk about a choice not an echo. If Tom Corbett wins the Republican nomination for governor and Pat Toomey the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, we are set to have a true ideological battle in the fall.

Onorato is a Rendell Democrat; Sestak and Specter and bona fide moderate liberals (or radical left-wingers, as they are likely to be labeled by their opponents.)

Toomey is a genuine conservative - ideologically about the same as Rick Santorum, only with a good disposition. He doesn't snarl and he seems like a nice guy.

The surprise is Corbett, who seems to have headed in the direction of the Tea Party folks, as least for the Republican primary.  He was one of the attorneys general who filed suit against the Obama health care bill and he has signed a pledge to enact no new taxes.

I expect he will tack a bit to the center after May 18 because he has to -- you can't win with just Republican votes in Pennsylvania.. Toomey doesn't tack with the political wind, but he'll probably have a ton of money to go after his Democratic opponent. 

In other words, we may actually have a debate on the issues in the fall - over the direction of the nation and the direction of the state. That is a good thing.

 Four.   Am I the only one who watches in wonder as Arlen Specter accuses Joe Sestak as being difficult to work for? That's the gist of his TV ads, which claim that Sestak makes his campaign workers work such long hours they earn below minimum wage.  And that he was such a tyrant in the Pentagon that he was ousted from his job.

Hands down, Arlen Specter has a reputation as being among the most difficult person to work for Washington, D.C.  I've known staffers who haven't so much left Specter's office, as run out of the room screaming.  It's pure chutzpah, but effective chutzpah.

 

Tom Ferrick is senior editor of Metropolis.

 

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