Demfest: Specter-Sestak forum gets hot hot hot

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s winter meeting is taking place amid a major blizzard, but Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak raised the temperature of the room during a Friday evening candidate forum.

(Yeah, yeah. Lame lede, I know.)

Sitting next to Specter on the dais, Sestak immediately ripped into the Republican-turned-Democrat’s voting record.  Responding to a question about President Obama’s economic stimulus package, he said Specter may have helped pass the measure, but he also helped cause the recession. “We never should have had such a bill,” Sestak argued. “He brought a fire hose to the fire that he, voting 2,000 times with George Bush on the economic and tax policies that gave us this recession, actually drove this state aground.”

Again and again, Sestak said he’d gladly lose his job to promote policies he supported, not-so-subtly referencing Specter’s politically-driven party switch.

At first, Specter ignored Sestak and focused on his record. Discussing health care, the incumbent pointed to the funding boost he negotiated for the National Institutes of Health last year.  “I challenge anyone in this country to say they’ve done more to save lives, prolong lives and save money than has been accomplished with the increased research at NIH.”

But halfway through the forum Specter went on the attack, calling a Sestak answer “rambling.” He pulled out all the stops in his closing statement. “ I’ve seen Congressman Sestak talk more about me than he has about policy, so I’ll return the favor. I’m going to ask him, in his last minute, why he’s missed 127 votes,” he said. “I’m going to ask him to explain why he has the worst voting record of anybody in the Pennsylvania delegation, and 9th-worst…in Congress. I’m going to ask him, if he was AWOL in the Navy if he wouldn’t have been court-marshaled?”

Specter’s next line drew sustained applause. “You know my record. I’ve been backed by the president because he thinks I’m a good addition to the party.  I’ve been backed by the vice president, governor and Senator Casey because they know me and they know I share Democratic values.” Pointing to Sestak, he summed up his argument.  “If you think he can beat Toomey, think again. If you think I can beat Toomey, you’re right.”

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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