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Friday, February 19, 2010

Is there some way Mary Beth Buchanan can run as the incumbent?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 2:40 PM

As Mary Beth Buchanan struggles to find her campaigning stride, she may find herself wishing she could emulate Arlen Specter.

The Republican-turned-Democratic Senator is, after all, notoriously irritable. But he's found a way to make sure no one sees him get rattled: Avoid broadcast debates if you can.

Specter has apparently declined an invitation to debate Sestak on Meet The Press.  His rival in the Democratic primary, Congressman Joe Sestak, recently sent out a press release calling Specter out.

"Arlen Specter's sense of entitlement is typical of a 30-year Washington insider," charges Sestak campaign spokesman Jonathon Dworkin in the release. "He thinks that just because he cut a deal in Washington he doesn't owe voters the time of day."

Of course, Sestak's release suggests a perfectly good reason for why Specter might decline. The release notes that Meet the Press has a tradition of hosting high-profile debates between Senatorial candidates. For proof, it cites eight such debates held in 2006 and 2008. The Sestak campaign doesn't call attention to it -- and maybe it doesn't have to -- but four of those debates involved incumbents facing challengers. Can you tell what else these four races have in common? 

PENNSYLVANIA Incumbent Senator Rick Santorum (R) vs. State Treasurer Bob Casey (D)

VIRGINIA Incumbent Senator George Allen (R) vs. former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb (D)

OHIO Incumbent Senator Mike DeWine (R) vs. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D)

MISSOURI Incumbent Senator Jim Talent (R) vs. State Auditor Claire McCaskill (D)

That's right: In each case, the incumbent ended up losing the election.

Not implying any causal relationship there. Just saying that debates generally don't help incumbents, and can only give added visibility to their lesser-known opponents. I honestly don't see too much sign that Sestak's campaign is catching on at this point -- which is too bad, because I think he'd be stronger in November. But it's probably unrealistic to expect Specter to help him prove it. 

Then again, Mary Beth Buchanan's foe, incumbent Jason Altmire, knows very well that opting out of debates isn't always a good strategy. Altmire won his Congressional seat in 2006, when he faced a Republican incumbent, Melissa Hart, who refused to debate him

And Altmire doesn't seem to be taking anything for granted this time. His campaign isn't ignoring Buchanan -- quite the opposite. Earlier today, Altmire sent out a release noting Buchanan's less-than-successful appearance on the Marty Griffin show this week. The release characterized her as a "controversial, ultra-partisan former Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney."

This gets back to a trend noted here before: Given increasing restlessness and disenchantment among voters, "If you're Jason Altmire, obviously, you'd much rather convince the voters it was still 2006 or 2008 ... [A] Buchanan candidacy would give us all a chance to bash the Bush years all over again. "

Seems to be working for Altmire so far. Now if he could just arrange to have a debate hosted by Marty Griffin ... 

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