Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-Penn) campaign and allied lawmakers are charging primary opponent Rep. Joe Sestak with deliberately "distorting" the senator's words in an effort to make him appear more concerned about holding onto power than political principle.
For the past few weeks, the Sestak campaign has been running a television ad throughout the state that quotes Specter saying that he switched from the Democratic to Republican Party because it would "enable" him "to be re-elected." The footage was taken from a statement Specter had made back in May 2009 and it fit right into the theme that the long-time Senator was a political opportunist above all else.
Specter's camp had been urging reporters to locate and air the totality of the statement. And on Thursday, local TV station WGAL did just that:
"My change in party will enable me to be re-elected and I've heard that again and again and again [from people] on the street: 'Senator we're glad you'll be able to stay in the Senate and help the state and the nation.'"
The full statement doesn't change the fact that Specter clearly saw a switch in party affiliation as the one possible avenue for holding on to public office. It does, however, offer a seemingly fuller explanation for the switch. Instead of holding on to power for power's sake, Specter was arguing (as he had in other forums at the time) that there was a broad constituency within the state that wanted him in the Senate no matter what letter -- R or D -- came after his name.
"This is another example of Congressman Sestak believing there is a special set of rules just for him," said Christopher Nicholas, Specter's campaign manager. "The distorted clip of the Senator was so important to Sestak that he repeated it twice. His claims to the contrary, Joe Sestak is just another politician."
The Sestak campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
As it happens, one of Specter's prominent endorsers, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, happened to be in Washington D.C. on Thursday to discuss the implementation of health care reform in the states. At the end of the event, he fielded a few questions on the Pennsylvania Senate race, affirming his belief that Specter would win and asserting that Sestak with misleading voters with the aforementioned ad.
"Arlen Specter voted to end his career as a Republican when he voted for the stimulus and he was cajoled by me, by the Mayor of Philadelphia, by the Vice President of the Untied States to switch and become a Democrat years before this year," Rendell explained.
Asked why Specter seemed to be in such trouble in the polls, the governor replied:
"He is a 30-year incumbent. If you told me in January that [Utah Sen. Bob] Bennett wouldn't even get on the ballot I would have told you, you were crazy. Bennett was a terrific conservative, a good guy. It is a tough year to be an incumbent and Specter is a 30-year incumbent."