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Monday, May 17, 2010; 7:57 PM

Pennsylvania: Sestak, Specter take Senate race to wire

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PHILADELPHIA -- Competing for the right to take on Republican former congressman Patrick Toomey in what is likely to be one of the most closely watched 2010 races, Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak traded personal jabs in final hours of the campaign for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania.

"Hope's not enough," Sestak said Monday outside New Hope Baptist Church in South Philadelphia at a campaign event with black clergy leaders.

Apparently not: Clarence Pemberton Jr., New Hope's pastor, compared Specter to "an old glass of wine" that needed to be refreshed. Bishop Leonard C. Goins, head of the Pentecostal Clergy Political Awareness Committee and a Sestak backer, said the state needed "young, energetic ideas."

Specter -- who, at 80, is still battling the effects of Hodgkin's disease -- was a "dead man walking," Sestak suggested Sunday.

Specter's campaign has called such age and health-related comments "below the belt."

Sestak's final pitch was an argument from electability; the congressman pointed to polls showing he currently would perform better than Specter against Toomey. "Politically, he will take down the whole ticket," Sestak said.

Should the upstart congressman succeed in besting Specter, his doggedness will have been a factor.

When state Rep. Frank Burns (D) held a cookout-fundraiser last summer, he invited every Democrat seeking statewide office to speak before 300 or so of his constituents in Johnstown, Pa. No one came except for a guy no one had ever heard of, from nearly 200 miles away, and that was Sestak, Burns recently recalled.

"He asked to speak for five minutes," said Burns, "and he wowed them."

-- Paul Kane

A raucous welcome for Critz from Burns supporters


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