State could set the national precedent

PHILADELPHIA. With the calendar turned to 2010 and nothing less than control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs, all political eyes in Pennsylvania are fixated on the looming battle for Senator Arlen Specter’s seat in Washington.

The 29-year incumbent, who shocked the political world last year when he switched to the Democratic Party, is in the fight of his career. He faces pressure from both sides, needing to get through a Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, while former Republican Congressman Pat Toomey looms in a general election that could be even more bruising.

When he switched parties with the support of President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell, Specter was looking to avoid a grueling primary. Instead, Sestak’s candidacy has made Specter go from saying he wouldn’t be an automatic vote for the Democrats to being just that.

“Joe’s primary challenge has forced Arlen to come around to his … point of view on every major issue since Joe entered the race,” Sestak’s campaign argued recently.

The result has been a more liberal stance by Specter on a host of issues, from supporting a public option for health insurance that he opposed even in the days after his party switch to calling for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act only weeks after he said it wasn’t needed.

“He’s on the hot seat,” local Democratic political consultant David Dunphy said of Specter recently. “Every one of these votes coming up in the next year … has political implications.”

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