Rep. Joe Sestak (D) has defeated Sen. Arlen Specter (D) for his party’s Pennsylvania Senate nomination, while the Democratic candidate won the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D) seat.
Sestak led Specter 54-46 percent in the Democratic Senate primary as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, with more than 99 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press and other outlets called the race for Sestak at 10:15 p.m. Earlier they called the Republican primary for former Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, who led activist and perennial candidate Peg Luksik 81-19 percent.
The AP also called the race between Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns in the special election to replace Murtha. Critz led Burns 53-45 percent, with 99 percent reporting.
Specter, a five-term incumbent, became the second senator to lose re-nomination this election cycle. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) lost his re-nomination bid earlier this month. His race against Sestak had become tougher in recent weeks as polls began to show the two tied or trading small leads. The last poll to be released, from Qunnipiac University, showed Sestak leading Specter by one point. Specter had been a Republican for 44 years before rejoining the Democrats in late April 2009. He was previously a registered Democrat from 1951 through 1965.
Burns hoped to make the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th house district a referendum on Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, while Critz distanced himself from the national party to a degree, labeling himself an “independent thinker.” Polls generally showed a close race in the campaign’s waning days. The latest poll, from Public Policy Polling, had Burns leading Critz by one point, 48-47. The special election only allows Critz to serve for the remainder of the current congressional term. He will face Burns again in the general election.
*Update at 11:01 p.m.: *Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just released a statement thanking Specter for his aid to the Democratic agenda and giving Sestak his full support in the general election:
“Arlen Specter has been a valuable member of our caucus over this past year. Without Arlen’s support, we could not have passed health insurance reform, the Recovery Act or other key parts of our agenda. I am extremely grateful to Senator Specter for his career of service to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to our nation.
“Joe Sestak served our nation admirably in the Navy for over 30 years and has been a tireless advocate for the people of the 7th district in Pennsylvania for the last four years. He will bring that dedication and tenacity to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and will stand on the side of middle-class families. We will wholeheartedly support Congressman Sestak as the Democratic nominee, and we look forward to working with him in the 112th Congress as the junior Senator from Pennsylvania.”
Update at 2:20 a.m. May 19: Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) fended off primary challenges from Lackawanna County commissioner Corey O’Brien and the tea party-affiliated Independence Hall PAC candidate Brian Kelly, albeit with only 49 percent of the vote. All other incumbents won re-nomination by default or received at least 65 percent of the vote.
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato (D) and state Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) will face each other in the gubernatorial election. Both candidates had been heavily favored to win and led significantly in recent polls.