Katharine Seelye has an interesting Q&A over at the New York Times' political blog, "The Caucus."
In it, Congressman Joe Sestak talks pretty candidly about his apparent decision (he still leaves a sliver of wiggle room, even in this interview) to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.
It's worth heading over to the site for the whole read, but here are a few choice nuggets to be mined from the interview.
1. THE EFFORT TO CLEAR THE PRIMARY SEEMS TO HAVE BACKFIRED
A lot of people who claim to know Congressman Sestak (and at least one insightful commenter here at DailyKos) suspected that any move to clear the Democratic primary for Arlen Specter would actually push Joe Sestak INTO the race, and not OUT OF the race.
That appears to have been correct.
But I will get into it. I think it’s the right thing to do because I was moved so strongly when the Democratic Party people thought they could anoint someone.
He also made it a point of emphasis that he does not feel beholden to the party establishment:
I didn’t come up through the political establishment. I’m not part of the establishment, and I don’t shy away from saying I’m an independent representative of my district.
2. CHANGE WILL BE A BIG PART OF HIS CAMPAIGN MEME
Check this quote out. After being asked if he was at all unnerved by the fairly wide polling gap that exists between himself and Senator Specter (a recent poll had Specter leading 50-21), Congressman Sestak had this to say:
Well, 50 percent after 30 years in the Senate — only 50 percent? But I’m not running against him, I want to create contrasts. The poll is a snapshot in time but there are contrasts between us that this poll doesn’t lay out: A gentleman in the Senate establishment for 30 years, and someone in military for 30 years.
He also drew a contrast on a single issue--health care. I doubt it is a coincidence that when a spokesman for the AFL-CIO was asked about the race on Wednesday, the two issues he specifically cited were EFCA and...health care reform.
3. HE KNOWS HE HAS TO BE DEFERENTIAL TO OBAMA, EVEN IF THE W.H. ENDORSES SPECTER
Congressman Sestak, at multiple points in the interview, seems to go out of his way to praise President Obama. This is an interesting and difficult dance for him--Obama is, by all reports, supporting his opponent, but Sestak cannot alienate Obama supporters. Sestak dances with this rather well, by (if anything) going to Obama's LEFT:
I have strongly supported him. I would have been more bold and aggressive for government intervention on the economy. I would have done more than $825 billion.... But I’m very supportive of his blueprint for retooling the economy and I’m there for this president because I think he’s got it right.
And look at how deftly Sestak handles the question of the Obama administration's tacit endorsement of Senator Specter:
I was taken with what Obama said at Arizona — that the core mission of a president is to create opportunities for everyone. I think he recognizes that the opportunity for Pennsylvanians to have someone else to vote for isn’t to be shut down.
Taken in its entirety, two conclusions can be drawn from this interview--(1) it is exceedingly likely that Sestak will make good on his intentions and get into the race and (2) he is going to be a very tough out.
The good news for Democrats in general, and the DSCC in particular: given the political skills of the two men in question, facing Patrick Toomey after this is going to feel like playing the softball team from Ed's Auto Supply after you just finished playing the New York Yankees.