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Will a loyal Democrat be pushed aside by Specter?

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak plans to take on the senator who switched from the Republican party in the Pennsylvania primary. But Obama's promised to campaign for the newby Democrat.

May 31, 2009|Andrew Malcolm

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who aggressively campaigned last year for Barack Obama, has decided to enter his party's primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by 79-year-old Republican-suddenly-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.

President Obama, as part of the well-publicized allegiance switcheroo to get Democrats closer to the magic 60-vote Senate margin, has already promised to campaign down the line for Specter.

So loyal Joe may be out of luck. For now.

Republicans are chortling, even though they don't have a winning statewide candidate yet.

A bitter Democratic primary struggle with the president backing a rebellious former Republican over a rebellious Democrat would make for an interesting race.

And the media would love for Vice President Joe Biden to campaign in his native state.

The GOP hopes any intra-party bruises might carry over to the general election in November 2010 and give them a shot, especially since Republican ex-Gov. Tom Ridge decided not to run.

Sestak told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that he hadn't talked to the White House but intended to enter the Democratic primary, pending a final consultation with his family. No pressure on them.

Sestak questions Specter's party loyalty. Imagine that!

Specter's got about $6 million in the bank and a long reputation. But Sestak's a scrapper. He has more than $3 million and ample time for voters to get to know him better, especially if, as Specter has warned, the incumbent may stray outside party lines.

A few months of sporadic support from Specter on crucial administration-backed legislation could disillusion some conservative Pennsylvania Democrats and maybe cause the president's schedule to fill up, except perhaps for one event picked to serve as a symbolic gesture.

On the other hand, be careful what you wish for. Joe is a comer, and even a losing Democratic primary campaign in the Keystone State would greatly boost his name recognition, leaving the future open and an old-timer like Arlen hanging on.

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andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( www.latimes.com/ticket "> www.latimes.com/ticket ), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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