Kabuki Partially Confirmed?
This Joe Sestak interview with TPMDC confirmed some of my suspicions that the same Democrats who brokered a deal with Arlen Specter aren't exactly unhappy with Sestak criticizing it.
I asked him whether he'd been on the receiving end of establishment pressure -- from people like Vice President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell -- to stay out of the race, and he insisted, "I haven't heard from anyone."
While Democrats from the While House on down might be trying to keep the Democratic primary field clear for Specter, they might not necessarily mind the fact that, for the time being, Sestak is applying pressure on Specter to move left. By keeping the door open to challenging Specter in the Democratic primary, Sestak may serve to nudge Specter further than he might otherwise have gone. Yesterday, Sestak told Greg Sargent that if Specter "doesn't demonstrate that he has shifted his position on a number of issues, I would not hesitate at all to get in" to a primary fight against him.
As I said yesterday, Sestak loses nothing from calling out Specter - even if he decides against running, he gains credibility as a Democrat enunciating Democratic principles, actually more credibility than he probably deserves - later in the TPMDC interview he equivocates on the question of a public option for health care reform. And given that Sestak has only grown louder in his criticisms, he certainly hasn't heard from the White House, as he notes, that he might want to tone it down. I could absolutely envision a scenario where Sestak has no real intention of running but is being used as a cattle prod to corral Specter.
The bigger question about primarying Specter is whether or not Tom Ridge enters the race. While Pat Toomey probably cannot get elected in Pennsylvania, a pro-choice former Governor with some measure of popularity might be able to pull it off. I don't think that's a given - Ridge worked for George Bush in a high-profile position, so he'll have to live that down. And there's a major question whether he can beat Toomey in a primary. Toomey has raised half a million dollars in just a few weeks since entering the race and would have substantial grassroots support in a closed Republican primary that has grown far more conservative in recent years. I personally don't believe that any Democratic candidate has much to fear, either from Specter or from Toomey or from Ridge. But that's another factor.
...Labor leaders meeting with Specter today. The kabuki dance continues.