Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said in an interview that Sen. Arlen Specter was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic Senate primary because voters “misunderstood” Specter’s reasons for switching parties after four decades as a Republican. He already has endorsed Sestak and said he isn’t worried the Democratic party will take long to heal any primary wounds, but sounded downright worried about whether Democrats can keep the seat in a general election matchup with former Rep. Pat Toomey.
“No one can replace Arlen right away but hopefully Congressman Sestak or Congressman Toomey can grow in the job,” Rendell (D-PA) told me in an interview after midnight as he drove home from an election night event. “Joe has a real chance to win but it’s at best a tossup.”
The TPM Poll Average of this race — based on polls taken before Tuesday’s primary — shows Toomey leading 39.1 percent to 35.4 percent for Sestak.
The governor, in his final year in office due to term limits, was a strong Specter supporter. He said that Tuesday, “the twin burdens of incumbency and switching parties was just too much” for Specter. He said the race wasn’t a referendum on spending or the bailouts since Specter and Sestak had the same voting record, and thinks President Obama wasn’t a factor since they each supported Obama’s policies. “There’s no difference there,” Rendell said.
Despite indications near poll closing time that turnout had surged, fewer than 1 million Democrats or just 25 percent of eligible voters showed up Tuesday. Rendell said he was “very disappointed” by those “pitiful” figures.
Rendell does see a bright spot for the national party in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district, where Democrat Mark Critz easily defeated Republican Tim Burns. “This shows Democrats can and will win tossup districts. I thought Critz would win but I never suspected he’d win by 8 and a half points,” Rendell said. “That might be a red flag to all the people who expected Democratic losses this fall.”