Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak Locked in Tight Primary Race in Pennsylvania

Senate Democratic primary is a test of the anti-Washington sentiment.

May 18, 2010— -- Voters across Pennsylvania today started casting their votes in the Senate primary race that could become a symbol of the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment sweeping across the country.

Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, who has occupied one of two Senate seats from Pennsylvania for nearly 30 years, is in a tight neck-and-neck race with Rep. Joe Sestak, who has exploited the anti-Washington mood and campaigned around Specter's decision to switch from the Republican to the Democratic party last year.

People have lost "all faith and trust in Washington, D.C.," Sestak said on "Good Morning America" today. "And there's no way they feel they can have a career politician like Arlen Specter, who I do respect, but after advancing George Bush's policies, slamming us into this recession, all of a sudden you switch parties."

"I think regaining that trust is what this election is about," Sestak added. "It's not about me. It's not about Arlen Specter. It's about people who've lost trust and jobs. We've got to be public servants, not politicians."

The latest pre-election polling by Quinnipiac University shows Sestak winning 42 percent of the votes, with Specter trailing closely behind with 41 percent. The poll, conducted Sunday night, found that 16 percent of the voters were undecided and 25 percent of those who backed a candidate said they might change their mind.

Specter will need his supporters to show up at the polls in Philadelphia, where he is largely popular, but the heavy rain in the city could dampen the longtime senator's chances.

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Specter, who was first elected to the Senate in 1980, expressed confidence in his re-election.

"The anti-incumbent mood plays because the public is fed up with the gridlock in Washington, but I fought that gridlock my entire tenure in the Senate," Specter said today. "I've been willing to cross party lines."

"I wanted to be re-elected to keep my job, to get jobs for thousands of Pennsylvanians," he added.

Specter wiped tears from his eyes after voting this morning. When asked by ABC News if it was an emotional vote, knowing it could be the last time he is on the ballot, Specter said he plans to vote many more times and that he plans to be in the Senate for many more years.

Specter also said President Obama did everything he asked him to do and that he is "a big boy" who didn't need any more help.

"I'm able to carry this election," Specter said. "I'm a big boy."

Neither President Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden have flown to Pennsylvania to campaign personally for Specter, even though last year the White House -- which backed Specter's party switch -- eagerly said they would campaign for the senator.

Specter did use Obama in his campaign advertisements, and the president taped a robocall for him urging voters to cast their ballots for the longtime senator. But Sestak argued that Pennsylvanians don't want a "yes man" career politician in Washington.

"At the end of the day, I don't begrudge the president for the deal that was made with Arlen Specter. It's pretty tough down there," Sestak said, referring to the White House backing Specter's party switch. "But at the end of the day, we are Pennsylvanians, pretty independent minded and we want to make up our own decisions. There's no more kings. There's no more kingmakers."

Specter and Sestak Locked in Tight Race in Pennsylvania Democratic Primary

Sestak was a virtual unknown compared to Specter until last month, when he unveiled ads showing the longtime GOP senator with President Bush and Sarah Palin. Sestak also played upon Specter's party switch, painting him as a politician who made the move for his own political gain and to save his job, rather than for the greater good.

Specter's two new ads featured Obama and highlighted an earlier rally in Pennsylvania, where the president reminded constituents that Specter "cast the deciding vote in the Recovery Act ... pulling America back from the brink."

Specter followed this with a new radio ad Thursday in which Biden said Specter was "one of the most principled guys I have ever known."

The ads are considered a benefit by many, given that Obama's approval ratings are significantly higher than those of Congress members.

Pennsylvania was considered a barometer for national sentiments in the 2008 presidential election. Often considered a possible swing state, Pennsylvania holds a large middle-class constituency, one that has experienced lasting repercussions from the recession. Once a national leader in job creation, the state faces a 9.4 percent unemployment rate, in line with the national average.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania is the first big test of Republican efforts to win back the House: a special election to replace long-time Democratic Rep. John Murtha, pitting Republican Tim Burns against Democrat Mark Critz.

Both parties brought out heavy-hitters. Bill Clinton stumped for Critz over the weekend; Scott Brown campaigned for Burns. Yet, as in the Senate Democratic primary, the race is too close to call.