Sestak ad criticizes Specter's party switch

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Challenger Joe Sestak spotlights Sen. Arlen Specter's decades as a Republican in a new ad that attempts to undermine Mr. Specter's standing with Democratic voters with his own tactical analysis of his Democratic conversion.

Footage repeated at the beginning and end of the ad shows Mr. Specter explaining, "My change in parties will enable me to be re-elected."

Those moments bookend images of Mr. Specter appearing with former Sen. Rick Santorum and former President George W. Bush at a rally where the ex-president refers to Mr. Specter as "a firm ally."

As the 30-second spot dissolves away from a shot of Mr. Specter standing with Sarah Palin, a narrator says, "Arlen Specter changed parties to save one job -- his, not yours."

The 30-second commercial seeks to convey Mr. Sestak's central argument against the veteran senator -- that he is a political opportunist exploiting Democratic voters for his own gain. The new ad followed earlier Sestak commercials in which he had introduced himself to voters, and responded to the incumbent's charges about the circumstances surrounding the retired admiral's removal from a senior position in the Pentagon.

Mr. Specter continued his attacks on the Delaware County congressman in ads in which he repeated earlier criticism over missed congressional votes and the low salaries Mr. Sestak pays to many of his campaign staffers.

While trying to play offense with the new commercial attack, the Sestak campaign continued to defend the former admiral's naval record in a conference call showcasing an endorsement from a veterans' group, VETPAC. Various speakers rebutted the Specter campaign's criticism, contending that they amount to swift-boating of the 31-year Navy veteran.

Mr. Specter has repeated charges that Mr. Sestak was fired from a top Navy post for creating a poor command climate. Mr. Sestak insisted he was transferred in a normal course of a transition to from one chief of naval operations to another. Mr. Specter has encouraged his challenger to prove his version of events by releasing his personnel records. Mr. Sestak contends that the attacks are a slur on a 31-year record of defending his country.

"Specter's tactics are far too reminiscent of the dishonest attacks we saw against Max Cleland and John Kerry," said Lorin Walker, a VETPAC official. "Admiral Sestak is right to not dignify these tactics and give in to Specter's insulting demands."

The Specter campaign counter-programmed the veterans' endorsement Thursday with its own announcement of the formation of a Veterans for Specter coalition.

In a statement distributed by the campaign, a former state VFW commander, Tom Dougherty, called the senator, "someone who's shown his concern for veterans, and has delivered for us with additional funding for health care and education programs."

On the eve of the last full week of the campaign before the May 18 primary, the two contenders will continue their cut-and thrust today in dueling appearances in Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Sestak hopes to draw attention to his critique of the incumbent with a lunchtime appearance at the Hill House. Mr. Specter will demonstrate his support from the Democratic establishment as he tours a proposed maglev transportation facility in McKeesport with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Later, he is scheduled to speak at the dinner of the Allegheny County Labor Council, one of the many labor groups supporting him.


Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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