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Scenes from the campaign trail

Monday, May 17, 2010; 7:57 PM

Pennsylvania: Sestak, Specter take Senate race to wire

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

WASHINGTON, PA. -- The special election to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D) has been anything but a sleepy affair. Groups have been lavishing money and attention on the race, and a series of political heavyweights have paraded through Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.

In the waning hours, though, the race was marked by smaller moments, including Democrat Mark Critz being jeered Monday during a midday stop here, about 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh.

About a dozen young supporters of his Republican opponent -- many of whom appeared to be teenagers -- stood outside Shorty's Lunch, a popular hot dog joint, in the rain to chant "Vote Tim Burns!"

Burns also was traversing the sprawling western Pennsylvania district Monday to win a few more votes before polls open Tuesday morning. Polls show the two men are neck-and-neck.

Critz drew a friendlier reception at Krency's Ice Cream down the road in this factory town, where the district's Democratic roots were on display. He shook hands with retirees and factory workers as waitresses whizzed by with plates of burgers and fries.

"I don't want to interrupt you, I just wanted to say, 'Hi.' I'm running for Congress," he told two men in trucker hats and work shirts, who took his hand politely.

At a nearby table, Richard Gray, 58, a machine operator, said he was a registered Democrat but would be voting for Burns because of his outrage over the health-care bill, which he believes was passed against the wishes of the people. "I'm fed up with the Democrats. It's like they know what's better for us than we do," he said.

-- Sandhya Somashekhar

Arkansas: Halter crisscrosses state in furious bid for win

LITTLE ROCK -- Determined to outwork Sen. Blanche Lincoln on the eve of a Democratic primary that, polls say, he is unlikely to win, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter embarked Monday morning on a 25-hour campaign swing that would take him across the state and back again.

Halter began in far southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana border, while Lincoln scheduled her first event just a few miles from the Missouri line in the north. Halter had 20 stops on his schedule before polls opened Tuesday. Lincoln listed four.

Backed by millions of dollars from national labor unions and liberal Democrats, Halter aims, at a minimum, to deny Lincoln 50 percent of the vote and force a June 8 runoff with the help of the third candidate in the field, self-financed Little Rock conservative D.C. Morrison.

Halter's breakneck pace is one measure of the intensity of his attempt to knock off Lincoln, a two-term incumbent and self-styled pragmatist who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. To her quip that she is the rope in the tug of war, he retorts that he is pulling the rope for middle-class families.

"Presidential election years are very sensational," Lincoln said at a campaign event in Marion. "People's expectations have been elevated, and you're the first thing that comes between them and the expectations that haven't been met."

Halter stayed on the offensive, where he has been most comfortable for weeks. He accused Lincoln of waffling on the labor union measure known as "card check." He said she was wrong to push for estate tax breaks for families worth more than $10 million.

He said he is gunning for a "clean victory" on Tuesday, "but if you wind up in a runoff with an incumbent Democratic senator who's been in Congress for 16 years, it'd be hard to characterize that as anything other than a victory for us."

-- Peter Slevin

Kentucky: Grayson says Paul gets a push from Fox News

LOUISVILLE -- Trey Grayson says it's hard enough that his opponent has a national fundraising base and a huge grass-roots following, thanks to his father.

But the Republican Senate candidate says that, in his race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), he is also battling Fox News.

By frequently putting Rand Paul on its air, Grayson said Monday that the network has all but endorsed his opponent.

"I've been on Fox News once, on a live feed on one of the shows, and I was told I was to expect a certain line of questioning, and I was given a different line of questioning," said Grayson, who is trailing Paul in polls. Paul, meanwhile, is "on all of the time."

Paul is the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), and he has acknowledged his father's role in helping him raise money and get media attention.

"His dad had these phenomenal contacts, so . . . he's on Fox News every couple of weeks with softballs," said Grayson, .

As Grayson told this to a group of reporters and about 15 supporters in an airport hangar in Louisville, Paul was appearing on Fox News.

"We think there is a tea party tidal wave coming. It's already hit Utah, and we think it's coming to Kentucky next," Paul told the network .

Paul also barnstormed the state Monday, adding to an afternoon crowd in Bowling Green, "We the tea party, we the people of Kentucky will help decide what that message is, where the Republican Party goes, what the Republican Party becomes. This is an important election. You will be part of helping define the direction of our country the next few years."

-- Perry Bacon Jr.

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