Specter Says Sestak Can't Defeat Republican Toomey for Pennsylvania Senate

Senator Arlen Specter said his opponent in this week’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Representative Joe Sestak, wouldn’t have what it takes to defeat the Republican nominee in the general election.

“People recognize that I am the only guy who can beat” likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey, Specter said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. Sestak “can’t do it.”

Sestak, 58, appeared on the same program and predicted he would win the May 18 contest against the 80-year-old Specter because “people are tired of this old retread, tired politics of old.”

Specter, who switched party affiliations to Democrat from Republican last year partly to avoid a primary battle with Toomey, has found himself in a close race against Sestak. First elected to the Senate in 1980, Specter risks becoming the latest victim of an anti-incumbent mood among the U.S. electorate.

A May 5-10 poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, found Specter leading among likely voters, 44 percent to 42 percent. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

A poll by Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, released May 12, put Sestak ahead among likely Democratic voters, 38 percent to 36 percent. Specter had a 20- point advantage in a March poll of registered party voters. About one in four voters were undecided in the poll, which has a margin of error of 7.9 percentage points.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, predicted on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that Specter will win by “a little.”

Utah Voters

Pennsylvania’s race follows the May 8 vote by the Utah state Republican convention to deny three-term Senator Bob Bennett renomination, and the May 11 primary defeat of 14-term West Virginia Representative Alan Mollohan, a Democrat.

Bennett, appearing on CNN, said his defeat at Utah’s convention shouldn’t be “extrapolated across the country as a whole.”

Utah has both a convention and a primary. “There’s no other state that’s like that,” Bennett said. “According to the polls, if I got to the primary and got before the voters, I would be just fine.”

Still, voter anger at sitting lawmakers in Washington is becoming a national trend, he said.

Bennett said he “would not be surprised” if Specter lost. “But then the question comes, is Sestak seen as part of the federal government, and would he be thrown out as well in November? I think there’s a very good chance he might be if he wins the primary,” Bennett said.

Specter switched parties in April 2009, a decision he said was motivated by his slim prospects of winning the 2010 Republican primary against Toomey, a fiscal conservative.

Obama’s Support

His decision gave the Democrats the 60th vote needed to force debate on White House initiatives Republicans wanted to derail, and President Barack Obama pledged to support him in his bid for re-election.

The Specter campaign last week released an ad featuring an Obama fundraising speech in which the president praised the senator for casting the “decisive” vote for last year’s economic stimulus package. Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Specter in Pennsylvania.

Sestak continued his bid for office in the face of pressure from the Pennsylvania Democratic establishment to leave the race after Specter joined the party.

The two-term congressman gained ground in the past month after releasing a television advertisement that linked Specter to former President George W. Bush and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Specter argues that he can use his seniority to deliver an economic boost to the local economy.

To contact the reporters on this story: Catherine Dodge in Washington at cdodge1@bloomberg.net Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net.

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