PHILADELPHIA — President Obama, making an unusual foray into a Democratic primary election battle, told a paying crowd of supporters of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on Tuesday that the senator would fight "to help me move this country forward."
The reception drew 750 people, some of whom paid $2,400 to attend. The president was scheduled to attend a more intimate gathering of Specter's big-money donors later today. Overall, the fundraiser was expected to bring in nearly $2.5 million, split between Specter's campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Obama's appearance came nearly five months after Specter, a five-term incumbent, bolted from the Republican Party and became a Democrat, in part to avoid a looming GOP primary rematch against former congressman Pat Toomey. Instead, Specter faces a tough fight on the political left from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) for the Democratic nomination.
Obama said Specter had long fought for issues important to Democrats, including increases in the minimum wage, improvements in workplace safety and extensions of unemployment benefits.
"Arlen is not someone who came to Washington to fight for a particular ideology," said Obama, at the Philadelphia Convention Center. "He came to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania. That's why you should send him back for another six years, because you know he's going to fight for you."
He said Specter cast the deciding vote on the $787-billion stimulus bill that passed in February and drew widespread criticism from Republicans.
"At the time this was not an easy vote for Arlen to take," Obama said. "But Arlen knew that it was more important to answer to the people who sent him to Washington rather than his party."
He added: "He was a great senator when he was a Republican. He is going to be an even better senator now that he is a Democrat. . . . He is going to help me move this country forward."
Specter has benefited in previous elections from White House support during tough intraparty battles. Five years ago, then-President Bush backed Specter in the GOP primary against Toomey. Specter eked out a win.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) also endorsed Specter in that battle. On Tuesday, he took a swing at his former colleague.
"He has done a hard left turn to try and get into the good graces of this president," Santorum said in a conference call with reporters, "and obviously he is getting rewarded for that by the president coming to campaign for him."