Specter Loses the Bet

Via the NYTSpecter Defeat Signals a Wave Against Incumbents:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who left the Republican Party a year ago in hopes of salvaging a 30-year career, was rejected on Tuesday by Democratic primary voters, with Representative Joe Sestak winning the party’s nomination on an anti-incumbent wave that is defining the midterm election.

There is no doubt that the current mood was one of the variables that figured into Specter’s loss, but in his case it is impossible to ignore that he his loss is also about a gamble taken that did not pan out.  Specter calculated that he could not win the GOP primary and so switched parties, brazenly (yet, honestly) stating that he was doing so so that he could stay in officer.  He did not make a principled argument for his party switch.

The real question for Pennsylvania is whether the Democrats will retain the seat or not.  As such, the exact ramifications of the primary remain to be seen in terms of the longer-term governing implications.   Ironically, the general election contest is probably the same as it would have been had Specter stayed in the GOP:  Toomey v. Sestak (Sestak, Toomey hit campaign trail in Phila.).

The Philadelphia Inquirer has Specter’s political obit:  The end of the Specter era.

Update: The BBC’s Katie Connolly rightly notes:

It’s tempting to see anti-incumbent sentiment in the defeat of Senator Arlen Specter, but that race says more about the unwillingness of Democrats to embrace the former Republican.

Democrats should worry though, that the vaunted turn-out machine of Democratic Gov Ed Rendell failed to deliver for Mr Specter in Philadelphia. It also casts doubts over the White House’s political judgment – they backed Mr Specter from the start.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Dantheman says:

    “Ironically, the general election contest is probably the same as it would have been had Specter stayed in the GOP: Toomey v. Sestak”

    I am not sure. I suspect that if Specter did not change registration, other Democrats would have entered the race (most likely Auditor General Jack Wagner, who finished second in the primary for governor).

    Still, it’s a very different race without Specter in it. I suspect the Democrats’ chance of holding the seat went way up with this result.

  2. Billy says:

    I’m not sure what bet Specter “loosed” last night, but I definitely agree that he lost an earlier bet.

    (Sorry – I know how easy typos are).

  3. Billy,

    I appreciate the heads up–it is far too easy to see what one thinks one typed rather than what one typed…

  4. B. Minich says:

    I don’t like saying this was a victory of the challenger vs. the incumbent. Remember, this section of the PA electorate had never voted on Specter before. He’d always gotten elected by the Republican primarys (PA has seperate primaries).

    This was the first time he’d ever faced the Democratic primary electorate. And it didn’t go well.