The Fall Of Arlen Specter

Arlen Specter PhotoWith only a week to go until Pennsylvania Democrats head to polls to pick their Senate nominee, things are very suddenly not looking good for Arlen Specter. First, there’s a new Rasmussen poll that shows Specter falling behind Sestak for the first time since the race began:

Congressman Joe Sestak has moved ahead of incumbent Arlen Specter in their Senate primary match-up with just over a week left before Pennsylvania Democrats go to the polls to pick their nominee.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Democratic Primary voters in the state shows Sestak earning 47% of the vote while Specter picks up 42%. This marks the first time Sestak has held the advantage in the race.

Specter’s support has slipped from 48% in March to 44% a month ago to 42% today.

The numbers for Sestak have been going in the opposite direction from 37% in March to 42% a month ago to 47% today.

A daily tracking poll from Morning Call and Muhlenberg College also shows Sestak leading Specter, and suggests that the surge for Sestak may still be gaining steam, as this chart from RealClearPolitics demonstrates quite clearly:

RCP Poll Trend

This latest surge from Sestak is obviously the reason that Specter and the Pennsylvania Democrats are pulling out all the stops in the final week of the campaign, including a new ad that started running yesterday starring President Obama. Of course, the Sestak campaign has been quick to point out that, six years ago, Specter was campaigning with a very different President.

If these trends continue, then Specter would clearly seem to be toast at this point, a development which Democrats may end up savoring both for it’s political irony, and because recent polls show Sestak performing much better against Pat Toomey, the inevitable Republican nominee.

In either case, it would appear that, like Bob Bennett, we won’t have Arlen Specter to kick around for very much longer.

Update: Greg Sargent reports that there will be more evidence of Sestak’s surge released tomorrow:

Tomorrow, a third poll will come out finding Joe Sestak is leading Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Dem primary. The poll, from Franklin & Marshall College, will mirror others showing Sestak ahead by around five points, the poll’s director confirms to me.

Anything can happen between now and next Tuesday. But Sestak might really pull it off.

Terry Madonna, the director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, just gave me an interesting overview of the race, explaining in a nutshell why Sestak could prevail, though he cautioned that a Specter win is still a very real possibility.

Madonna’s take: Dem primary voters haven’t voted for Specter for decades. Why would they start now?

Madonna pointed out that for most of the race, a huge bloc of Dem primary voters, perhaps as high as 40%, have been undecided. They are only focusing on the race just now, with both campaigns airing out their messages on TV.

“If they hadn’t agreed to vote for Specter after 29 years, why are they going to change in a month?” Madonna asks, in a reference to Specter’s long career as a Republican in the Senate.

Excellent question.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Steve Plunk says:

    What? The Democrats are purging those who don’t meet their ideological criteria? No big tent? No diversity of ideas? Stringent standards? It’s like they’re a Tea Party demanding principles of the candidates.

  2. MstrB says:

    Which party is he going to switch to now?

  3. What? The Democrats are purging those who don’t meet their ideological criteria?

    Actually, Specter has been a perfectly reliable liberal since his party switch. There is no particular ideological issue. I think it is more that the buy comes off as a political opportunist, and anyway, it isn’t like Democrats have ever voted for him. This is hardly comparable to Bennett in Utah, is it?

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    It isn’t so much Specter falling, but the undecideds breaking for Sestak. If you look at the polls from 3 weeks ago, Specter had a solid lead, but the undecided vote was larger than the total for Sestak. Now, Specter is at the same point in the polls, but about 2/3 of the undecided has broken for Sestak with no up tick for Specter.

    Given the normal dynamics of undecideds breaking for the challenger, a strong anti-incumbency mood and the general circus of Specter’s party loyalties over the last several years, this is not unexpected. The undecided vote is large enough that either can pull out a victory. A strong get out the vote effort by either can also bring out a win. But Sestak has to like his current hand alot better than Specter likes his.

  5. sam says:

    Specter ran an attack ad the subject of which was Sestak’s military service. Evidently, this didn’t go down too well in PA. Specter’s attack, I gather, came across as “old politics” and, since Sestak served 31 years in the Navy and achieved that rank of admiral, most folks thought it was an ill-conceived dud. Or so I’ve read and heard.

  6. says:

    Specter didn’t become a “reliable liberal vote” until Joe Sestak announced his primary campaign, before that he was making all kinds of noise about how independent he was regarding his new party and president.

  7. Dantheman says:


    More important than reaction from Specter’s attack ad was Sestak’s ad which Doug linked to, showing GWB praising Specter and telling people Specter would be a reliable vote, and Specter sharing podiums with Santorum and Palin. Sestak’s leap in the polls is well-timed with that ad being released.

  8. steve says:

    As a PA resident, Specter’s jump came across as totally self-serving. His “makeover” was no more appealing than happens with any other politician, e.g. Romney. His attack on Sestak’s military record has not played well.


  9. I suppose “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” would be in bad taste.