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As we noted earlier, Sen. Arlen Specter met with senior SEIU officials this afternoon, just one day after his most likely competitor for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania--Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)--met with the group's president Andy Stern.

One of those officials was Eileen Connelly, Executive Director of SEIU's Pennsylvania State Council, who, reached by phone, said the meeting "was all about EFCA". "We didn't really talk about health care," she said.

Specter's support for both issues, but particularly the Employee Free Choice Act, has been flagging. Before he became a Democrat, he disavowed his prior support for EFCA, and then reiterated that position after switching parties last week.

"I think that part of our concern is--the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical issue for us," Connelly said. "It's why we've been talking to Specter, whether he's a Republican or a Democrat."

I asked her whether the Pennsylvania SEIU would consider getting involved in a Democratic primary if one of the candidates took stronger position on that issue. She said it was a bit too early to make big calls like that but that "there's nothing automatic for anybody."

"I don't want to say that it's all or nothing," Connelly added, "but it's very critical."

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The new poll of Pennsylvania from the GOP outfit Public Opinion Strategies, which shows former Gov. Tom Ridge swamping Pat Toomey in a Republican primary for Senate, also says that party-switcher Arlen Specter would start out with a huge lead in the Democratic primary against a potential challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

The numbers: Specter 57%, Sestak 20%.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Specter has much more name recognition than Sestak, having served as a Senator for nearly 30 years, compared to Sestak's only having been elected in 2006. And Specter's high-profile defection from the Republican Party has probably done him a lot of good with the state's Dem voters.

A new poll of Pennsylvania from Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies shows that former Gov. Tom Ridge (R-PA), who is reportedly considering a bid for the Senate seat now held by Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, would currently lead conservative candidate Pat Toomey in a 60%-23% landslide for the Republican primary.

Toomey's big lead over Specter in the primary polls spurred the incumbent to switch parties, which in turn created the question of whether the Republicans were guaranteed Toomey as the nominee, or whether another Republican could take him. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is also vice chair of the NRSC, has openly said Toomey cannot win, so the establishment could understandably be eager for someone else. And if Ridge gets in, they just might have it.

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You can say one thing for John Ashcroft: he's not short on chutzpah.

In an op-ed in today's New York Times, the former attorney general points out a thorny problem that the Justice Department may face as a result of the financial crisis: if there's evidence that a company that has received significant amounts of bailout money committed fraud or other financial crimes, how do the Feds prosecute that company, while still protecting the health of the company on behalf of taxpayers?

The answer, according to Ashcroft: deferred prosecution agreements.

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Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who has accused his party leadership of sabotaging his fundraising and trying to force him into retirement, is now raising a possible scenario under which he might just retire -- if he can't get enough money.

"We're working like the devil to make those goals," Bunning told reporters. And if he doesn't meet his goals: "we're going to take another look at the race. I'm not going to walk into 2010 with less than $1 million when I know it's going to cost $7 million minimally, probably $10 (million), somewhere in that area, to run against the winner of the Democratic primary."

He also had an interesting reply to the accusation that he's too old: "Do you know Arlen Specter will be 80, has had four bouts with cancer and he still wants to run for the U.S. Senate? And I'm being criticized at 77 and healthy for wanting to run for the U.S. Senate by certain leadership people in my party. Give me a break."

A new Susquehanna poll suggests that Republicans could very well pick up Joe Biden's old Senate seat, if they're able to recruit Rep. Mike Castle as their candidate.

In a match-up against Democrat Beau Biden, the state attorney general and son of Joe Biden, Castle has an overwhelming lead of 55%-34%. In the internals, Castle is ahead 82%-12% among Republicans and 55%-28% with independents, and Biden the Younger only gets a 52%-36% among Democrats.

From the pollster's analysis: "The low number of undecided voters (at 8%), this far out from the 2010 elections shows that both Castle and Biden are well known to Delawareans and that even before this hypothetical matchup takes shape, Castle is standing on very solid ground should he chose to run for the Senate."

(Via Political Wire.)

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) isn't the only potential Pennsylvania Senate candidate meeting with senior labor officials. Sam Stein reports that earlier today Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)--the former Republican who's been all-but promised an easy road to the nomination by establishment Democrats--met with SEIU Officials Anna Burger--Chair of Change to Win and Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU--and Eileen Connelly, the Executive Director of the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council.

These were Specter's natural allies when he was a pro-labor Republican, but between the threat of a primary challenge by conservative Pat Toomey, and his sudden defection into the Democratic party, Specter has doubled down on more conservative positions, saying that he no longer supports the Employee Free Choice Act and opposes a publicly funded insurance option as a component of comprehensive health reform.

Those statements and others have drawn the ire of Sestak and labor officials, who say Specter better get in line, or his road to the Democratic Senate nomination in 2010 won't be as smooth as he first expected. We'll get you more specifics about these talks as they come in.

The House plans to vote tomorrow on an anti-mortgage fraud bill, which now contains a provision that will create an independent outside commission to investigate the causes of the financial crisis.

"The American people need to understand how we got here - and lawmakers need to know how to prevent this type of economic crisis in the future," said Rep. John Larson (D-CT), who supports the move, "This commission can answer those questions."

Last week, the Senate passed their version of the same bill, which contained a similar provision, and in the coming days, the differences between the two will be resolved.

On the matter of the commission, the differences are fairly minor.

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It's worth trying to clear up some of the confusion on a key point that came out of yesterday's post.

We wrote that, after reading the transcript of Jane Harman's wiretapped conversation with the suspected Israeli agent, then-CIA director Porter Goss signed off on the Justice Department's application for a FISA warrant to wiretap Harman herself.

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