Brian Beutler is asking why the National Republican Senate Committee would simultaneously run ads attacking and praising newly-minted Democrat Arlen Specter (to get re-elected, Specter would likely first have to overcome a challenge from the left in the Democratic primary, then beat Pat Toomey in the general election).

I think it’s a mistake to take the purpose of the NRSC’s “pro-Specter” robocall at face value. It makes more strategic sense as another anti-Specter, pro-Sestak call aimed at Democratic primary voters. Here’s what the ostensibly “pro-Specter” call actually says:

Yesterday, our Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak voted for President Obama’s budget, which contains spending increases for Democratic priorities like housing and environmental protection. But don’t Pennsylvanians deserve an independent voice in Congress? Our new democratic Senator Arlen Specter has been that voice. Last night, Senator Specter stood with conservative Senate Republicans in opposing the Obama budget. So call Joe Sestak at 610-892-8623. Tell Joe Sestak that Pennsylvanians want an independent voice, not another vote for the Obama agenda.

Look at it this way. Picture yourself as a liberal Democratic PA primary voter. Here are the words that stand out in this call associated with each candidate:

Joe Sestak: for President Obama’s budget, Democratic priorities, housing and environmental protection, Obama agenda

Arlen Specter: new Democratic senator, stood with conservative Senate Republicans, opposing the Obama budget

If I’m a Democratic primary voter (and I am), all of this will just make me more inclined towards Sestak, and less towards Specter. And the fact that the GOP is ostensibly vouching for Specter will just make me distrust him that much more. Which is exactly the point: Hurt Specter’s standing with Democratic base voters so that Joe Sestak emerges as the nominee (and more power to them).

If the NRSC were really trying to make Sestak less popular, wouldn’t they slap him with terms like “big government” or “energy tax” or “taxes for tuition benefits for illegal immigrants who come here to study abortion”? Do they really think “environmental protection” is a turn-off for Democratic primary voters and opposing Obama is a turn-on? They may be tone deaf, but not that tone deaf.


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