In one of the first instances of an established political figure supporting the challenger in this primary, Rep. Barney Frank is endorsing Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania today, in his battle against Arlen Specter for the Senate seat on the Democratic side.

In a press event, Frank cited Sestak’s support, as the highest-ranking military member in Congress, for repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. He also said it was “important for the integrity of the political system” to have meaningful primary challenges rather than political chameleons like Specter who change their positions to satisfy a new political party. Frank said that the establishment forces, including the President and Vice President, are making a mistake by supporting Specter, though he understood why the President would try to secure that 60th vote for health care and other priorities with a sitting Senator. Sestak added that “Pennsylvanians are a little tired of backroom deals.”

Frank said he believed that Sestak was “the one likeliest to hold that seat” as well.

There is one issue where Frank and Sestak are on opposite sides of the debate, and that’s on Afghanistan. Sestak generally supports the escalation while Frank thinks it’s time for the US to leave (Specter in general sides with Frank and is to Sestak’s left on this issue). I asked the Congressmen about this and how it impacted the endorsement.

Frank said, “I will freely acknowledge that Joe Sestak and I do not agree on everything. But there is less disagreement between me and Joe Sestak, than the disagreement between Arlen Specter the Democrat and Arlen Specter the Republican.” Sestak agreed that Specter has come to his positions fairly recently.

“I have great respect for those who have arrived at that decision (to oppose escalation) … Good people can differ on this. My question is, have you come to this position on the basis of merit or on the basis of political calculation? And with Specter, he’s changed his position on DOMA, he’s changed his position on the public option, he’s changed his position on card check. Pennsylvanians want their representatives to take positions early and to be forthright and candid that they came to this agreement honestly and not for political expediency.”

Sestak added that the sole goal in the region should be the eradication of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and that there must be an exit strategy. He added that the White House still lacks benchmarks for Afghanistan to measure success and failure.

David Dayen

David Dayen