PA-Sen: Arlen Specter's Desperate Fundraising Tactics

Arlen Specter appears even more desperate as his fundraising pleas are getting ever more shameless.  You of course recall about a month ago when it came out that the cancer awareness website that Specter supported was really a fundraising gimmick for Specter's re-election campaign.  Now it's being reported that, when Specter attends conferences to speak on policy, completely unrelated to his campaign efforts, he's still making fundraising pleas to the unwitting attendees:

It's no secret that cash rules political campaigns and that candidates spend a lot of their time trying to pry checks out of voters, businesses and interest groups and just about whoever. It's usually done discreetly at fundraisers held in places like the back room of a restaurant or the home of a prominent supporter.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) isn't so shy, apparently.

In an unusual move, Specter pleaded with a roomful of conference attendees Wednesday: Please write me a check. Members of Congress give talks at industry meetings all the time but they rarely - if ever - straight up ask for dough in public, especially when reporters are lurking about.

Specter was finishing up brief speech about healthcare reform to an audience of medical equipment suppliers when he closed his remarks with a fundraising pitch.

"My last [campaign] cost $23 mil. So I'd like you to consider giving me a hand with it. Campaign contributions are limited in the federal system so I have to get 50,000 contributors and the people in your industry have a reason to know my work and analysis of the situation. If you can see your way to help out, I'd be very much appreciative," Specter said.

Again, that pitch wasn't at a campaign fundraiser among supporters.  It was at health care policy conference in a roomful of medical equipment suppliers who came to hear a legislator speak on policy, not a candidate pitch his re-election campaign.  Pretty shameless, and it reeks of desperation.

Sure, Specter enjoys a large fundraising edge over Congressman Joe Sestak.  As of the end of March, Specter had a 2-to-1 edge over Sestak in campaign bankroll, $6.7 million to $3.3 million.  But a 2-to-1 fundraising edge - even with Ed Rendell, the DNC, and others working for him - might not be enough for Specter to maintain the edge on Sestak.

Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania Democrats want Specter to receive a primary challenge.  Specters knows this - and that may be why he's desperately pleading with policy conference attendees to cut checks for him in a most unseemly fashion.

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More Than Specter's Flip-Flops

Chris Bowers worries that messaging might not be enough for Sestak:

...I wonder if this message is enough. Many voters simply assume that politicians are spineless, so a "flip-flopping" charge doesn't mean much to them. Others might simply like that he flipped, because he now holds their position. So, the "trust" charge is going to have to connected to something more concrete. Something more like: can you really trust Arlen Specter to fight for you on health care and creating jobs?

I think it's more than that - my suspicion is that a strong negative contrast message will take a sizable chunk out of Specter's numbers. More than just the stuff about switching parties, I think Sestak will tie Specter to Bush:

"I went to Washington to oppose the policies of President Bush," [Sestak] says by way of contrast to Specter who "supported them."

Sestak's just giving us a taste. There's a pretty deep well of examples.

With a little money behind him, Sestak's primary run could get very interesting very quickly. The more explicitly Sestak ties Specter to Bush, the more uncomfortable things might get for the Democratic hard do they work to support Specter's party credibility? And how quickly will Specter scramble to secure his left flank?

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Targeting Specter's Vulnerability

On paper, Sestak might seem like a long-shot, but yet he's clearly convinced that a primary against Specter could what does Joe know that we don't? Last week I speculated about the existence of internal polling that shows Specter vulnerable to negative messaging.

Over at TPMDC, Beutler posts an interview that redoubles my suspicion:

[Sestak] describes "the message" as a key issue. But what will his message be? In an interview with TPMDC, Sestak provided some clues.

"Arlen has spent the last three decades in Washington as a senator and has a lot of experience in the Washington senatorial establishment," Sestak said. "The same one that made a deal with him."

By contrast, "I come from 31 years in the military."

Furthermore, Sestak says Specter's record will haunt him. "I went to Washington to oppose the policies of President Bush," he says by way of contrast to Specter who "supported them."

Bet money that Sestak's already poll-tested those attacks against Specter, and that they proved effective. If there's enough money behind this primary to get that message out, Arlen's happy numbers from last week might nosedive fairly quick.

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New Q-Poll: Not Great For Sestak

On the heels of yesterday's quasi-announcement from Rep. Sestak, a new Quinnipiac University poll (May 20 - 26, n=1,191, +/-2.8%) shows a relatively tough road for the new (sort of) candidate.

First, the topline isn't great: the Q-poll finds that Specter would beat Sestak in a primary 50 - 21%.

Second, Pennsylvanians don't hate Specter. But while Democrats seem satisfied with his work (contrary to my expectation), Penn voters generally seem unconvinced he deserves re-election:

Pennsylvania voters approve 51 - 39 percent, including 74 - 16 percent among Democrats, of the job Specter is doing. This compares to a 56 - 36 percent approval, including 81 - 10 percent among Democrats, May 4.
By a 46 - 39 percent margin, voters have a favorable opinion of Specter (including 70% of Dems).
Voters split 42 - 43 percent on whether Specter deserves to be reelected (68% Dems, 38% Indies), down from 49 - 41 percent May 4.

So is there daylight for a viable primary here? Well, maybe.

Sestak has plenty of headroom to improve his name ID and favorability: 70%+ say they don't know enough about him to form an opinion. In addition, while most dems approve of the job Specter is doing, overall voters aren't totally convinced he deserves reelection.

My gut says Sestak has internal polling that shows Specter's numbers are soft - that he's either vulnerable to negative messaging or the numbers look like they'll shift heavily once Sestak's ID raises. If that's the case, and Sestak spends the money to try, we could see things move.

If not, this primary might not get too far.

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DNC Going to Bat for Arlen Specter

Ben Smith passes on an email sent to the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America email list under the pen of Vice President Joe Biden.

For more than 25 years, [Arlen Specter and I have] ridden the train together back to Wilmington and Philadelphia. We've had some great debates and discussions on the train -- and gotten to know each other so well -- that it gives me great pleasure to be able to work even more closely with Arlen now.

His independence, integrity, and piercing intellect will continue to be a tremendous asset to the people of Pennsylvania, and now, to the Democratic caucus in the Senate.

I know that he'll keep up his great work on issues ranging from cancer research funding to global warming, deficit control to immigration reform -- and in our coming debate to reform America's health care system.

As Smith notes, not only has the DNC sent out this supportive email on Specter's behalf, the committee has also set up a page on describing Specter's record in the Senate. Interestingly, the page highlights Specters "important role in nine different Supreme Court nominations since 1981" -- interesting because not only was Specter instrumental in keeping Robert Bork off of the Supreme Court, which most Democrats would approve of, but also because he was instrumental in getting Clarence Thomas seated on the Court, which most Democrats certainly do not approve of.

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