The last week of Arlen Specter’s political career

Sen. Arlen Specter finds himself in the same spot he was six years ago.  He’s a long-term incumbent Senator, locked in a tight primary with a candidate favored by his party’s grassroots, and he’s hoping that support from a President whose approval ratings have dropped precipitously will give him enough credibility with the base to drag him over the finish line.

But there’s a big difference between Specter’s 2010 fortunes and the landscape in 2004 – and no, it’s not the letter next to his name, or that Garry Shandling seemed to spoof the senior Senator from Pennsylvania in Iron Man 2.

In 2004, when Specter squeaked past Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, there were many Republicans who held their noses and voted for him anyway in the general election.  There were also many grassroots activists who deliberately voted against Specter or stayed home.  That was in a year with a Presidential election race, when the GOTV machine that was the Bush-Cheney was dragging every last vote possible to the polls, and when independents tended to break Republican.

This year, the anti-incumbent energy knows no party lines, as Specter and Sen. Blanche Lincoln can surely attest.  It doesn’t help that Specter’s strongest message seems to be based on his incumbency:

“Why would you want to trade 30 years of experience and seniority…for somebody who’s a back-bencher?” is how Specter himself put it in his remarks to the Pittsburgh-area Democrats after he rattled off all the funding he’s directed to the region thanks to his perch on the Appropriations Committee.

Here’s a fearless prediction: Supporters of Rep. Joe Sestak will not be good little soldiers if Specter beats him in the primary next week.  They may vote for him, but they won’t make phone calls, knock on doors, or do any of the other things that have to be done for an election victory.

This isn’t a contested primary along the lines of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008, where the eventual winner could make a credible case for support to the supporters of the eventual loser.  Whether or not Specter pulls out the victory on Tuesday, he may already be a lame duck.  A Sestak/Toomey race would be a battle of ideas; a Specter/Toomey race would really just be about Arlen Specter in a year where incumbents are contributing to the unemployment figures in more ways than one.

Untold Tales of Massachusetts

In discussing the Scott Brown victory with friends and colleagues over the past few days, some angles of the race incredibly haven’t been picked up by the endless mainstream news media coverage.

#1: Specter’s Swap caused the Bay State flop

A casual conversation with a veteran campaign operative brought up an interesting angle to Brown’s victory: that  Arlen Specter may have unwittingly delivered this seat to Republican control with his April party switch.

Back in April, Specter’s switch didn’t just make the rallying cry of “The 41st Vote” relevant, it also eliminated the Republican primary between the liberal Specter and conservative Pat Toomey.  Remember Toomey had just barely lost a 2004 primary challenge and was poised to overtake Specter in 2010 – if he had the right resources.

If you were a conservative donor somewhere outside of Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, to whom would you donate money if you had to choose: a well-known candidate who had legitimate shot to help return the Senate to its roots, or a long-shot barely-known state senator trying to take Ted Kennedy’s seat?  Specter’s swap in April made Brown the best investment when his nine point poll deficit was announced earlier this month.

Who said Arlen Specter never helped the GOP?

#2:  Speaking of polling…

Remember how Democrats were roundly criticizing Rasmussen polls for supposedly being skewed in favor of Republicans?  Well, it was Rasmussen who first signaled that this race may be closer than the conventional wisdom would suggest it could be.

#3: Jack E. Robinson helped break the “color barrier” for the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation

No, it isn’t THAT Jackie Robinson, and that “color barrier” is, of course, blue.  Robinson has been a Republican candidate for multiple state offices since his 2000 challenge of Ted Kennedy, but is considered something of a joke among Massachusetts Republicans.  Yet Brown took him at least semi-seriously in their primary match-up.

The contested primary was no contest – Brown won 89% of the vote.  But Mike Rossettie, who blogs at RedMassGroup (and used to run the political machine that was the UMass Republican Club) made the point that the primary was an opportunity to campaign, drum up name recognition, and win endorsements and free media.

Specter the rubber stamp

Online video makes it a little bit easier to hold a politician’s words against him or her.  Sometimes campaigns employ “truth squads” to follow their opponents around, recording their speeches, hoping for some embarrassing sound bit.

The folks at Pat Toomey’s Senate campaign didn’t even have to go that far.  Today, they released a video demonstrating Senator Arlen Specter’s changing rhetoric on his allegiance to the majority party in the Senate.  Notably, all of these are on national programs – underscoring the distance Sen. Specter has established between himself and Pennsylvanians.