By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
Nine months of campaigning hasn’t changed Governor Ed Rendell’s mind about Joe Sestak, the congressman whom he predicted last summer would “get killed” if he faced Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
“He’ll still get killed,” the governor said while taping a podcast with reporters, whom he also spoke with afterward. (See also reports on the interview from PA Public Radio’s Scott Detrow and the Morning Call’s John Micek.)
Sestak last year bucked party leaders, including Rendell and President Barack Obama, when he decided to challenge Specter, a Republican of 29 years before switching parties last April. His candidacy immediately attracted attention from liberal activists nationwide, and many analysts saw the congressman, a former admiral who already had $5 million on hand, a formidable foe to the longtime incumbent.
But lately his campaign has seemingly stagnated, with polls showing he hasn’t gained ground against Specter despite vigorous campaigning statewide. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month showed him losing to Specter 53 percent to 29 percent; the same poll released in December reported him down 53 percent to 30 percent. Another poll, conducted in February by Franklin & Marshall College, showed Specter with a 17-point lead over Sestak, although 44 percent of voters remained undecided.
Rendell, who called Sestak a “good congressman and a good man,” was blunt in handicapping his chances.
“He has, in my mind, no chance to win,” the governor said. “In the time that has elapsed, he hasn’t done anything to narrow the lead. In fact, the lead has actually increased.”
Sestak, he added, doesn’t have enough money to make a big enough “dent” in Specter’s advantage, although he conceded the congressman likely will at least close the gap in the coming weeks as he taps into a restless, angry electorate.
Sestak’s campaign has actually pointed to its fundraising as one of the biggest reasons it can defeat Specter, with the congressman saying he already has more money than any of the Senator’s past challengers. Its strategy seems predicated on an aggressive media blitz in the campaign’s final weeks designed to remind voters of Specter’s past alliance with, among others, President Bush and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
Specter’s success, Rendell said, can be tied with close relationships he’s maintained while in office with an array of Democratic officials, from local chairman to county commissioners.
“Arlen did it for 30 years,” he said. “There’s no way Joe can make up for that in a campaign. He’s out there making promises against someone who delivered.”
He added that although Sestak was a southeast congressman, that didn’t mean voters in the region, outside of his congressional district, knew who he was because U.S. representatives aren’t regular presences in the local media.