Senate Veteran Specter Loses Pennsylvania Democratic Primary

BY Quinn Bowman  May 18, 2010 at 10:41 PM EDT

Updated 11:58 p.m. ET | Despite the backing of President Barack Obama, Gov. Ed Rendell and much of the Democratic Party apparatus, five-term Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter lost a close primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

“It’s no surprise that people wanted change,” Sestak said, according to The New York Times. “When I went to Congress just a few years ago, after 31 years in the wonderful United States Navy, I found too many career politicians are a bit too concerned about keeping their jobs, rather than serving the public and rather than helping the people. In the Navy, we are held accountable for our actions. And we should expect no less, no less, from a politician in Washington, D.C.”

With more than 95.9 percent of precincts reporting, Sestak was beating the longtime senator 53.9 percent to 46.2 percent. You can see updated results from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State here.

“It’s been a great privilege to serve the people of Pennsylvania,” Specter said in his concession speech. “And I’ll be working hard for the people of Pennsylvania very hard for the coming months.”

Pennsylvania was also home to the only general election of the night – a special election to fill the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s seat in the 12th Congressional District. While Republicans saw the seat as a possible pickup of a seat long held by Murtha, Democrat Mark Critz, a former Murtha staffer, kept the seat in his party’s hands and defeated Republican businessman Tim Burns. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Critz had 52 percent of the vote over Burns’ 45 percent.

In the general election, Sestak will face Republican Pat Toomey, who won the Republican primary by a wide margin, in the general election this fall. Sestak’s victory over Specter marks the another loss for an incumbent in a midterm election where many members of Congress face constituents who are angry with government.

Specter rocked Washington in 2009 when he switched political parties, which helped temporarily give Democrats 60 votes in the Senate — enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Specter said at the time that he was switching parties because did not think he could win a Republican primary against Toomey.

Sestak, a former Navy admiral, has represented Pennsylvania’s seventh district in the Philadelphia suburbs since 2007.

Judy Woodruff reported on the tough primary fight in Pennsylvania last week. She found that while many Democrats were willing to support Specter, others were angry that Specter was willing to change parties to save his own career.

Watch her report:

We’ll have more analysis of Specter’s loss and the implications of the other elections Wednesday on The Rundown and the NewsHour broadcast.