Why Arlen Specter Lost

Sen. Arlen Specter concedes the Democratic nomination to Joe Sestak May 18. Carolyn Kaster / AP

PHILADELPHIA -- In the old days, maybe they could have fixed it for Arlen. 
Maybe the president and the powers that be in Pennsylvania could have cleared the field in the Democratic primary and made sure that Sen. Arlen Specter -- who had come over the Hill to the Democrats and given Barack Obama key legislative victories -- was renominated for the Senate seat he'd held for decades.

But these are not the old days.

Politics now is about personality, not the party. Obama's power is personal, not translatable. And the national mood is clear: anything that smacks of politics as usual is poison. Inside jobs will not be tolerated.

Specter's defeat at the hands of two-term House member Joe Sestak is yet another sign this election year that familiar figures, usual suspects -- especially though not exclusively if they are Democrats -- are an endangered species.

The White House and Democratic strategists will try to take some comfort from the fact that they held onto the House seat in Johnstown, Pa., and the fact that Sestak is probably the stronger general election candidate to face Tea Partyish Republican Patrick Toomey.

But the plain fact is that Obama and Co. tried to wire this race for Specter and and failed miserably. At first they tried to brow beat or bribe Sestak out of the race. Then they poured a lot of money and organizing help in. They begged the Philly machine, rickety as it is, to do its work.

It all fell flat. Sestak won 40 percent of the Philly vote -- a humiliation for the machine. Sestak won the Pittsburgh area by 53-47 -- even tho the mayor, the county executive and the AFL-CIO all endorsed Sen. Specter.

One thing this means is that Obama and his minions can't control what's happening at the grass roots. And they shouldn't expect to. If you think about it, Barack Obama won by opposing fix-it-for-Arlen kind of politics. He should be surprised that it didn't work today.

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