It took several hours, but by the end of the day Wednesday, it was evident that Campaign 2010 had a new headline story.
Early in the afternoon, the crew over at TPMDC broke the story that Joe Sestak was on the verge of declaring a primary challenge to nouveau Democratic Senator Arlen Specter:
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is privately telling supporters that he intends to run for Senate, TPMDC has confirmed.
"He intends to get in the race," says Meg Infantino, the Congressman's sister, who works at Sestak for Congress. "In the not too distant future, he will sit down with his wife and daughter to make the final decision."
The fact that the story came from the lips of the sister of Congressman Sestak, and not some anonymous fifth-level staffer, gave this one some credibility.
However, it is always worth noting--a media report that someone SAYS that they are getting into a race does not necessarily equate to someone actually ENTERING the race. Steve Israel is an instructive example here, as was Suzanne Haik Terrell for the GOP in Louisiana last week. Furthermore, the TPMDC piece made clear that there are still family discussions to come.
A Sestak bid, while rumored for weeks, seemed a bit curious, especially in light of the clear signals of the Democratic leadership's preference for a clear Democratic primary for Sen. Arlen Specter. While a Sestak bid would certainly set up one of the most intriguing races of the 2010 primary cycle, he would also seem to be swimming against a pretty strong tide. Just this week, stories were circulating that both the White House and DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez were trying to talk Sestak down.
A Sestak candidacy, if it were really going to develop, would be an uphill climb.
This was made clear in an afternoon statement to TPMDC by the head of the PA Democratic Party:
"Our position is that Arlen Specter is the incumbent and Pennsylvania has a history of supporting incumbents in races," said Abe Amoros, Acting Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Democratic party.
Amoros also implied that both Governor Ed Rendell and Senator Bob Casey would be endorsing Specter in a Specter-Sestak matchup. Still unknown, and a topic for interesting discussion, is what the Democratic members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation would decide to do.
By the late afternoon, the campaign of the other player in this drama, presumptive Republican nominee Pat Toomey weighed in:
There would be no lack of substantive policy differences in a general election race between Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak, but Pennsylvanians would get the kind of refreshing campaign they deserve — honest and straightforward, without the distortions and mudslinging that characterize Arlen Specter’s tired old approach to politics.
That gem came from Toomey's communications director. Team Toomey, to be sure, seemed to be delighting in the impending Democratic fracas. This, of course, willfully ignores one simple fact--it is exceedingly likely that either Democratic candidate would be a solid favorite against Toomey in a general election. This fact has to give the DSCC some comfort, potential primary hi-jinks aside.
By the evening, however, on CNN's "The Situation Room", Sestak spoke for himself, and left only a sliver of wiggle room in his statement:
"I personally have made a decision that I intend to get in this race with one other item...I haven't ... had the time to sit down with my eight-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in."
Establishment support for his opponent aside, Sestak faces another challenge: overcoming an early deficit. A poll taken by Garin-Hart-Yang on behalf of the DSCC just last week showed Specter with a forty point lead (56-16) on Sestak in a Democratic primary trial heat. However, it is worth noting that another poll on the race had Sestak trailing by only 21 points (55-34).
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Sestak appears to be in. Election 2010 just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting.
UPDATE: In a case of fortuitous timing, Quinnipiac was already in the field with a poll on the PA-Senate race. Specter leads presumptive GOP nominee Pat Toomey, but his margin has shrunk from twenty points earlier this month down to nine points (46-37). Sestak also has a small lead over Toomey of two points (37-35). In the Democratic Primary, Specter leads Sestak 50-21, which seems like a mid-point between the Garin-Hart-Yang poll giving Specter a forty point edge, and the GQR poll giving Specter only a twenty-one point edge.
UPDATE PART DEUX: Via this comment below from Scarce, it appears that during Barack Obama's California fundraising swing, he will have an interesting wingman--Arlen Specter.