WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is keeping some distance from longtime Sen. Arlen Specter as the Pennsylvania Democrat faces a tough election in Tuesday's primary.
On the eve of the election, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that while Obama was following the Pennsylvania race — as well as primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky — he wasn't watching that closely.
A year ago, Obama said Specter would have his "full support" after the Republican lawmaker switched to the Democratic party. But Obama made only one personal appearance for Specter — eight months ago, at a Philadelphia rally. He told the crowd that Specter came to Washington "to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania."
Though there were reports that Specter aides asked Obama to make an 11th-hour trip to Pennsylvania, the White House made it clear last week that wouldn't be happening.
Gibbs said Tuesday that the White House has been involved in the primary and is proud of that.
Obama aides had been hoping to avoid a repeat of the Massachusetts Senate race earlier this year, when Obama made a last minute trip to campaign for Democrat Martha Coakley, who would go on to lose the seat by Sen. Edward Kennedy. Obama also stumped on behalf of losing candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.
Specter switched parties after GOP anger over his February 2009 vote for the stimulus bill led him to the conclusion that he was unlikely to win a Republican Party primary. Specter was the only Republican in Congress facing a 2010 re-election to support the stimulus.
His challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, bills himself as the real Democrat in the race, saying Specter left the GOP to preserve his Senate job and can't be trusted to support Obama.
While Obama has avoided stumping for Specter, Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in getting Specter to switch to the Democratic party, did headline a campaign rally for his longtime Senate colleague in April. But he didn't appear with Specter on Monday, the day before the primary, despite being in Philadelphia to deliver a commencement address.
When asked Monday why Obama and Biden weren't making another appearance for him, Specter said "They've done everything we've asked them to do."
Obama did appear in a TV ad for Specter that started running in Pennsylvania last week. The 30-second spot shows footage from the September rally, where Obama touts Specter's "deciding vote in favor of a recovery act that has helped pull us back from the brink." He also taped a radio ad and recorded an automated phone call which went out Monday.
Gibbs said Monday that the president's involvement had not become an issue in the primaries.
"We have supported incumbent Democratic senators and we've done a lot on behalf of each campaign," he added, referring to Specter and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who also faces a primary challenge Tuesday.
On the eve of the Pennsylvania primary a poll shows the race too close to call, with Sestak claiming 42 percent of support among Democrats likely to vote and Specter with 41 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University survey released Monday.
Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Philadelphia contributed to this report.