Governor Rendell is ready to stick a fork in Congressman Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign. “He’ll still get killed,” he said, when we asked whether Rendell wanted to revisit last year’s primary prediction during a special “Politics as Usual” podcast.
Rendell says that’s not a knock against Sestak, who he calls a good congressman – but rather a reflection of Specter’s decades-long record of providing federal money and services to Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. ““It does matter what you do. Not just on big issues, but small ones. Arlen did it for thirty years. There’s no way Joe can make up for that in a campaign. He’s out there making promises against someone who delivered.”
The analysis came during the podcast session, and in a subsequent pad and paper interview.
Rendell’s relationship with Specter goes back to 1968, when the future Senator hired him to work in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. Rendell prodded Specter to switch parties for years, and endorsed the longtime Republican’s reelection effort immediately after Specter became a Democrat last April.
Rendell says Sestak has been working hard…
Sestak disagrees. During an interview in Washington DC last week, he said he’s confident the race’s dynamics will shift once his campaign starts airing television ads. “People have not been paying attention,” he insisted. “We’ve put away more money than anyone else has ever raised against Specter,” he claimed, so the ads will be able to do their job.
Rendell concedes Sestak will be able to tighten the gap – the latest Quinnipiac Poll gave Specter a 53-29 percent advantage – but thinks the congressman miscalculated his run. “Joe just didn’t understand how big a state it is,” he said. “The problem is he got on TV occasionally, and thought, ‘well, I’m from Philadelphia, everyone must know me.’ The truth is, only a small percentage outside his Congressional district knows him.”
In contrast, Rendell argues Specter has been building his brand and developing relationships with Pennsylvanians for decades. He recalled a series of conference calls he, Democratic Chairman TJ Rooney and Specter held with Democratic committee chairman and county commissioners last year. “The commissioners all knew Arlen. It blew me away. He knew more commissioners than I did. It was astounding.”
Specter has built a record of trust with the voters, Rendell said, to the point where the governor speculated both he and Senator Bob Casey would have a tough time defeating the longtime Republican in this year’s Democratic primary.
The full Rendell podcast is available, as usual, at Capitol Ideas. Additional coverage from co-podder Alex Roarty at PoliticsPA.
UPDATE: Sestak responds to the prediction, saying, “I like Ed; he and I will share a ‘Rendelli’ sandwich at Wawa after we win the primary — resurrecting this classic as was done in 2003 after Ed upset the old guard for governor. It’ll again serve as a reminder to today’s old guard that it’s important never to forget in America that it’s the people — not the establishment’s desire – that good leaders focus upon, and that’s why we’ll win.”