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Originally published Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Administration attempt to corral Sestak out of line

The Seattle Times editorial board says the Obama administration's attempt a year ago to entice Rep. Joe Sestak not to run for the Senate was arrogant and wrong, even if it was not illegal.

IT may not have broken the law for the White House to offer a position of influence to Rep. Joe Sestak. Robert Bauer, White House counsel, argued in a memo Friday that the offer was just politics. But it was certainly a style of politics that showed little respect for the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania.

The main events happened a year ago. The longtime Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, had just declared himself a Democrat, joining the majority party in the Senate.

President Obama was happy about that, and eager to support him, but it was not clear that Pennsylvania Democrats were. Many preferred a new congressman, the former three-star Navy Adm. Joe Sestak, who was making it known that he would challenge Specter to be the party's senatorial nominee.

And so President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, called on his old employer, Bill Clinton, to approach Sestak. Clinton offered the Pennsylvania congressman a slot on a presidential panel — no pay, but a presumption of influence — if Sestak would remain a congressman, and not challenge Specter.

Sestak, to his credit, said no.

Set aside whether the offer was illegal. In any case, it was an attempt to shelter a longtime senator from the challenge of a less-seasoned politician by enticing the congressman to go away. It was an attempt to deny voters a choice.

Under the American electoral system, primary voters do not get that many choices — and this was a good choice.

In his memo, Bauer argued that for power brokers to talk potential challengers into backing down is not illegal and has been done many times before.

To ears in Washington, D.C., that may sound like a killer argument. Outside the Beltway it sounds like an arrogant political class protecting one of its own.

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