by Dr. G. Terry Madonna and Dr. Michael Young
According to sage Yogi Berra, "it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."
Nevertheless, we boldly made one about a year ago appraising incumbent Congressman Joe Sestak's primary race against born-again Democrat Arlen Specter. We ended the article this way: "Today the Admiral (Sestak), despite his many assets, looks less the prospective giant killer and more the kamikaze mission recruit. He might fool us all. But don't bet on it."
Well now you can bet on it! Sestak remains the longest of long shots to beat Specter. The kamikaze mission is cleared for takeoff. The surname on Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate ballot this fall will indeed start with an S. But the S will be for Specter, not Sestak.
This conclusion, however, is far from the conventional reasoning on this race. A recent boomlet in Sestak stock has been taking place thanks to some national media spinning a come-from-behind victory scenario-a script embraced enthusiastically by fervent Specter haters hoping against hope that the senator they love to hate will finally meet his just desserts.
Maybe someday! But it's not likely to happen in May.
Sestak, despite a compelling personal narrative, a take-no-prisoners campaign style, and some early success in fundraising, has struggled against the resilient Specter. Real Clear Politics' recent polls average tracks him running some 14 points behind Specter. And his most recent fundraising report shows the last quarter was his worst yet for raising new money.
Equally ominous, perhaps, is the tone of much state media coverage on the race. Emblematic was the Philadelphia Inquirer's recent front-page article concluding that the Sestak campaign "so far has all the traction of a car with four bald tires traversing an icy mountain road."
But why has Sestak's early promise against the embattled Specter now come a cropper, despite the real and serious vulnerabilities incurred by Specter in a record-breaking sixth run for U.S. Senate? Analysis suggests three compelling reasons why Sestak has been unable to exploit the opportunities once available to him, and why Pennsylvania's longest serving senator will live to fight another day after the dust clears on May 18.
To live to fight another day, however, is not to live forever. A Specter primary victory would be his first win as a Democrat. It could also be his last. Specter's political life expectancy beyond May looks dicey. His race with Sestak is going to get closer-maybe much closer. Sestak has some $5 million to spend and no rainy day to save it for. Sestak may lose, but in the process he is going to rough up a candidate already roughly treated.
None of this is promising for Specter in November. And he will need all the help he can muster. Running against the formidable presumptive GOP nominee Pat Toomey in a year inauspicious for Democrats, Specter may be facing the toughest race of his political life. The Sestak challenge has wounded Specter in the general election race, forcing him leftward in support of an unpopular president's unpopular agenda. In the end, Specter, in winning the primary battle, may lose the general election war, becoming another causality of the widening polarization engulfing American politics.
Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly. Dr. G. Terry Madonna is a Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Dr. Michael Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner at Michael Young Strategic Research. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2010 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.