It’s been a long time since I’ve written about one of the most unique Congressmen in the House: former admiral Joe Sestak, the highest ranking military man to ever serve in the legislative branch. Sestak’s been running a balls-out campaign for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania against a White House-backed career pol in the form of Arlen Specter. Specter is a dogged campaigner. He’s also a stubborn man who plows his own course. Case-in-point: his twice changing parties, most recently last year.
Suddenly, the primary is a day away. And Sestak has finally closed the gap and taken a lead on Specter in recent polls. So, Admiral Joe’s long shot bid to move into the upper house of Congress is seeming closer and closer to a “Sure Shot.” (I knew I could get a Beastie Boys reference on this site if I worked at it hard enough.)
This isn’t Rudy running against McCain. These two guys do not like each other. After their contentious debate 15 days ago, the moderator, John Baer, heard Specter mutter something about “fisticuffs” to Sestak on his way off the stage. First of all, Arlen, we call them dukes these days (as we have for the last half-century). Second of all, you’re 80 years old. Sestak is still seven years away from even qualifying for Medicare: he’d wipe the floor with you. Did I mention he was in the Navy for 30 years? I’m sure he met a few SEALS during that time who taught him a takedown or two.
Baer actually thought Specter won the debate, but I don’t think he realized at the time that Specter’s aggressive stance came across as overzealous barking, while Sestak’s relaxed tone worked to his favor.
Regardless, in the aftermath of the debate, Sestak’s camp released a highly effective ad that is threatening to sink Specter’s battleship. And Sestak knows something about sinking battleships. The best political ads are the simplest. And this is the simplest ad of the season:
It frames the race in crystal clear terms and proves it with footage: Specter is a Bush-backed Republican who switched parties just so he could win and keep his job. (One of the site’s promoting the ad is amazing in its own right.)
I hate to drop more ink (or HTML code as it were) on him so soon, but GOP strategist Roger Stone’s words are pertinent: “One of the greatest mistakes I see people make in politics: they decide to run for office but they have no rationale for their candidacy… If a candidate has no reason for his candidacy, he or she usually does not win votes.” Well, Sestak just showed what Specter’s rationale is, and it ain’t pretty.
Furthermore, that Stone, an establishment Republican, said establishment Democrats don’t think too highly of Sestak and have called him “unstable,” should make you think more favorably of him. Does the country need more lockstep party-line drones? That party boss-types don’t like Sestak just cements his status as an independent-thinking public servant. Though I do feel slightly squeamish that if we believe Stone’s claim and Specter loses, we’ll be accelerating him to his grave.
To add a layer of slippery Freudian absurdity to these proceedings, when he spoke before the Allegheny County Democratic Party in Pittsburgh, at both the beginning and the end, Specter thanked the “Allegheny County Republican Party.”
Plus, now that the Obama people sense a Specter loss, they are tiptoeing around him. Sure, they haven’t pulled the president’s endorsement, but Obama is flying over PA to get to Youngstown, OH (less than 10 miles from the state border) on the day of the primary and Joe Biden is giving a commenement address at UPenn the day before. Neither is stopping by with a good word for the Specter campaign.
What a difference a year has made. Specter’s favorable and job approval ratings have plummeted. Sestak has electable name identification now. And that’s not just for the primary race, but in the coming general election against former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey. This month’s polls show a competitive race there now. Should he make it that far, Sestak will have to move from port to starboard politically to address Toomey. As for Specter, it’s looking like, “Iceberg, straight ahead!” on Tuesday.