Two worthy Pennsylvanians are jousting for the Democratic nomination for United States Senator.
Arlen Specter -- smart, inquisitive, tough and reasonable -- has served well for five senatorial terms. He nevertheless confronts a tough challenge in the primary, consequent primarily to his party switch, general anti-incumbent fever and a few missteps.
(A self-inflicted wound -- the "my change in party will enable me to be reelected" line made famous by his current opponent's television commercial -- evoked former Rep. Robert Wexler's on-camera declaration (cue 4:05) that he enjoys cocaine and prostitutes, and that "If you combine the two together, it's probably even more fun." Distinction: Specter's case did not involve withering interrogation by Stephen Colbert.)
Joe Sestak -- earnest, soft-spoken, progressive -- has served well as an important military officer and as a Congressman. Foregoing reelection to mount an improbable campaign against a formidable incumbent, he has reached striking distance, proving his foresight and determination. He offers the promise of several terms of fine service in the Senate.
Relatively small points must separate such strong candidates.
Sen. Specter has demeaned himself by circulating misleading swipes at Rep. Sestak's military service and voting statistics. It is regrettable that the incumbent's age and medical history -- more than one valiant victory against serious illness -- are relevant, but the increasing likelihood that a Republican governor would fill a vacancy merits consideration. (Specter's seniority, too, warrants respect.)
The Sestak campaign has emulated Wal Mart's low-grade employment practices -- meager wages coupled with a level of benefits that assigns the slack to taxpayers -- which not only squandered swipes at Sen. Specter's legendary abusiveness as a boss but also raises legitimate questions about whether Rep. Sestak's daily walk matches his progressive persona.
Democrats should remember that Specter recently provided crucial votes for important legislative accomplishments, and that he was assured that he would be welcomed by the Democratic Party.
In an ideal world, one of these Democratic senatorial candidates would be running for governor. In Pennsylvania, however, we have two strong Democrats in one election and none in the other.
The Infindorsement belongs, barely, to Joe Sestak, based as much on direct interaction with the two men as on anything else. For that reason, Specter supporters should vote with a clear conscience. In this primary, Democrats can't lose.