Although Specter is backed by President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell (D), he has not been able to clear the Democratic primary field and is facing a tough nomination fight from Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former three-star admiral who served as director for defense policy in President Clinton's National Security Council.
The likely Republican nominee is former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the former head of the anti-tax Club for Growth. Toomey challenged Specter in the 2004 Republican Senate primary, losing by a narrow 1.7 percent margin after the Republican establishment closed ranks behind Specter.
Sestak is aiming to appeal to Democratic primary voters by linking Specter and Toomey. "I'll debate Pat Toomey because it's the same as debating Arlen Specter," said Sestak recently. "They both voted to deregulate Wall Street to gamble with our savings. They both voted for the disastrous Bush tax policies that benefited the wealthy. . . . So I will be debating Arlen Specter under a different name."
The race to replace Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is barred from running again by term limits, promises to be one of the most fascinating in the country.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jerry Brown has cleared the field with strong fundraising and widespread name recognition.
Although the three-time presidential candidate knows that he will be badly outspent by his Republican opponent, Brown is marketing himself as someone who has "insider's knowledge but an outsider's mind." He also is promising that there will be no tax increases unless Californians approve them at the ballot box.
On the Republican side, two candidates are vying for the nomination: former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. (A third candidate, former Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., recently ended his gubernatorial run and jumped into the Senate race for the seat currently occupied by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.).
Whitman, who worked under former presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Bain & Company, is the Republican frontrunner. She has a spotty record of voting but is seen as a potentially strong general election candidate with her tight focus on creating jobs, cutting spending, and fixing education.
Before Whitman can get to a race with Brown, she has to get past Poizner, a wealthy candidate in his own right, who is running to her right on cutting taxes, denying public benefits to the children of illegal immigrants, and public funding of abortion.
Before Whitman and Poizner went on the air with television ads, Mike Murphy, a Whitman strategist who guided John McCain's 2000 presidential bid, tried to get Poizner out of the race by promising that Whitman would get behind him in a 2012 run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Poizner alleged that Whitman was engaging in political extortion and asked law enforcement authorities to intervene. The Whitman camp responded to Poizner's criticism by portraying him as having come "unhinged."