Sestak disputes Specter attack’s accuracy

Senate candidate Joe Sestak is pushing back against an Arlen Specter ad claiming he was “relieved of duty” as a Navy Admiral.

Specter’s commercial–the first attack ad of the Democratic Senate primary–starts out with the typical music and ominous voicing.

The thrust of the ad deals with Sestak’s voting record, and the congressman doesn’t dispute it. Sestak says he missed votes for several reasons last year, including campaigning, and to spend time with his dying father. But Sestak says the first line, “Joe Sestak: relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate,” isn’t true.

He says he butted heads with Admiral Michael Mullen over Sestak’s plan to reduce the Navy’s fleet, and chose to retire after the chief of naval operations reassigned him. The “poor command climate” line comes from a Navy Times article that Sestak says is wrong.

Sestak attained the rank of three-star admiral, but for pension purposes, is listed as a two-star. He says that’s not due to a demotion. “You need three years to retire as a three-star admiral. I don’t even know if I’d had a year yet as a three-star, but I needed to address an issue.”

Sestak says his daughter’s cancer diagnosis factored into his decision to step down. He served 31 years in the Navy, and commanded an aircraft carrier battle group during the early portion of the Afghanistan war.

Sestak sent an open letter to Vice President Joe Biden yesterday, calling on the Specter supporter to denounce the ad. Today, a group of veterans will attempt to hand-deliver the note to Biden today, when he stumps with Specter in the Scranton area.

I asked Sestak where he draws the line between fair criticism and below-the-belt attacks, when it comes to negative campaign commercials. He said going after opponents’ votes and policy stances is fair game. When I pointed out his campaign will likely air negative ads against Specter in the coming weeks, Sestak responded, “you’re making assumptions.” He says he wants the campaign to focus on the candidates’ policy differences, bringing up Specter’s support for a flat tax system. “Arlen and I disagree” on that proposal, he said.

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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