The Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania's closely contested primary race for U.S. Senate took their campaigns on Friday to voters in Philadelphia, the heavily Democratic city that could be the key to the contest.
Thus began a five-day sprint of events planned throughout the state, ending with Tuesday's election.
The challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, sprinted from one end of Philadelphia to the other, handing out fliers and shaking hands in diners, commuter stops and other public spaces.
Five-term Sen. Arlen Specter sought to highlight his support in the black community and among law enforcement, appearing at endorsement events with Philadelphia's black clergy and the union that represents Philadelphia's police officers.
The longtime moderate also continued to try to dispel suspicion among Democratic voters over his party switch last year and to respond to a widely played Sestak TV ad that closes with the line, "Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job — his — not yours."
His motive was altruistic, although he acknowledged that GOP fury over his vote for President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill all but ensured the party would not re-nominate him, Specter insisted.
"In voting for the stimulus, I wanted to avoid a 1929-type Depression, so that it was a matter of principle to continue to serve the American people, the people of Pennsylvania," Specter said.
A huge get-out-the-vote effort is under way for Specter, who is backed by Obama, the Democratic Party and most labor unions. Sestak, however, said he welcomed "real" Democrats coming out to vote.
"Every Pennsylvanian I met is pretty independent minded. Now, am I working my toes off from now? Absolutely," Sestak, said.
Asked about Specter's vote for the stimulus that Specter says saved thousands of jobs, Sestak responded that the stimulus was the hose for the fire Specter created by voting for the failed economic policies of former President George W. Bush.
And while Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and other Specter supporters tried to emphasize Specter's ability to work the levers of federal government for his home city and state, Sestak said it's more important to bring home good policies for working families.
Top Democrats took pains on Friday to defend Specter's Democratic credentials and play up his loyalty to Pennsylvania and willingness to break with the GOP during his 28 years as a Republican senator.
"He's been our senator the day he stepped into Washington," U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Philadelphia's Democratic Party chairman, said at the police union endorsement. "He's never turned down the city of Philadelphia."
In Pittsburgh, Vice President Joe Biden went on KDKA radio and called Specter his closest friend in Congress.
"I say he switched jobs to save Pennsylvania jobs," Biden said. "Have you met anyone in the world who said Arlen Specter yielded under pressure? Have you ever heard that? Never. Never. Never."
Polls show a tight race between Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral who is the highest-ranking retired military officer ever elected to Congress, and Specter, Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator ever.
Weighing in for Sestak on Friday was the liberal group, MoveOn.org, which urged its members to help Sestak's campaign.
Despite the close race, Specter, known as both a survivor of health scares and tight election contests, was not ready to call it his toughest race.
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