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Congressman Joe Sestak speaks at a town hall meeting at the Hall of Flags.

Following the May 18th primary, Pennsylvania voters now know who will be on the Senate ballot in November — Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Sestak and former U.S. Republican Pat Toomey.

While Toomey’s victory was expected, Sestak’s 54 percent to 46 percent victory over 30-year incumbent U.S. Senator Arlen Specter came as a political surprise. Although recent polls indicated a significant tightening of the race, just a few months ago polls were projecting that Specter would be ahead by a double-digit margin.

Penn students offered a variety of explanations for Sestak’s victory.

“Eight points is a large margin,” said Penn Democrats President and College sophomore Emma Ellman-Golan. “For 30 years, Democratic voters have been told Arlen Specter is a Republican. It’s really hard for people to make the change right away.”

Philadelphia Student Coordinator for Students for Sestak and former Daily Pennsylvanian Photo Manager Ted Koutsoubas attributed Sestak’s victory to the will of Democratic voters.

“We had the establishment against us,” Koutsoubas explained, “but at the end of the day what matters is who people vote for — and they wanted Congressman Sestak.”

Now that the primary has concluded, attention has turned to Specter’s legacy in the Senate and the general election in November.

College junior Colin Kavanaugh, Southeast Pennsylvania coordinator of Students for Specter and former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist and reporter, hopes that Specter is remembered for his independence.

“The political atmosphere is so partisan and polarized,” Kavanaugh said. “Personally, I always admired Senator Specter’s attention to every issue. He has never been a rubber stamp.”

Specter’s support for the National Institute of Health will be a part of his legacy — funding for the NIH has increased ten-fold since Specter began to appropriate funds to the organization.

Specter won $10 billion in funding for the NIH in exchange for his vote on the 2009 federal stimulus bill — a vote that eventually forced him out of the Republican Party, according to the Washington Post.

Sestak also expressed his support for the NIH, stating in his May 18 victory speech that Specter’s support of the NIH was “a legacy to be proud of.”

“I have fought for increased funding for the NIH — including a request for a 7% increase this year — and other avenues of medical research and will continue to do so in the Senate,” Sestak wrote in a statement.

Many of Penn’s schools receive NIH funding— particularly the School of Nursing, ranked first in federal research funding, and the School of Medicine, which has received a total of $155.4 million from the NIH.

Penn Democrats and Students for Sestak will be campaigning for the Congressman in the fall.

“It’ll be a challenging race, but in the end it’s going to be a pretty clear choice,” said Koutsoubas.

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