JOE SESTAK IS like a mailman. He's out every day delivering lots of stuff over and over to multiple places. One day last week, he did 11 events.

His campaign is frenzied. In the last two weeks, it e-mailed more than 50 news releases. They came from 7:30 a.m. to 10:20 p.m., up to eight a day.

They tout everything from Sestak's support of veterans to his bills aimed at helping small business, autistic children, gender equality and homeless youth, as well as his views on the State of the Union address (he liked it).

Yet, despite this relentless push to convince Democratic voters that he's a better bet in the General Election than R-turned-D Arlen Specter, Sestak, who announced last August, seems stymied by the elements.

By traditional measures of electoral success - fundraising, polls and party backing - Sestak hasn't yet delivered.

His campaign has $5 million to compete in the May 18 primary. Specter's has close to $9 million.

Recent polls show Specter well ahead: A Franklin & Marshall College Poll has Specter up 30-13; a Rasmussen Poll puts Specter's edge at 53-32.

The Democratic State Committee could endorse Specter on Saturday. Although party support isn't determinative (Bob Casey got it over Ed Rendell in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, for example), if Arlen gets it, Sestak looks the weaker.

Specter campaign manager Chris Nicholas says that "we're on the cusp" of winning party support, code for, "It's ours." Sestak tells me that he's called committee members, "out of respect," but "I haven't tried real hard" for the endorsement, code for not likely to stop Specter from getting it.

The committee meets Saturday in Lancaster; a two-thirds vote of those present is required.

It's not news that Specter is backed by Democratic leadership from President Obama to Vice President Joe Biden to Gov. Rendell to state party chairman T.J. Rooney (who recently said that Sestak has no traction and should exit the race).

It's no secret that Specter's camp worked to dry up what could have been fundraising wells for Sestak. ("These donors have known Joe for four years; they've known Arlen forever," one party insider says.)

And it's not surprising that a two-term House member isn't as well-known as a 30-year Senate incumbent.

But the clock is ticking. And if Specter engages in normal strategy, he'll soon air statewide TV ads to try to wrap things up.

What's Sestak to do? Just keep working hard, he says.

"I'm not sure traditional measures apply to this election," Sestak says. "I'm not sure what the benchmarks are, but the establishment is missing them."

He says that voters are angry, restless and seeking something new, and points to polling data showing 50 percent of Democrats "undecided" at this point. "They're looking, and they're not giving [their support] until the very end," says Sestak.

He also argues that Specter's "style of politics, closing a deal to salvage his job, isn't what politics is about anymore."

And when asked if Specter stays up in polls, gets endorsed and goes on TV early, whether Sestak would consider leaving the race and filing for re-election in his district (he has until Feb. 16), he offers an emphatic no.

"This is going down to the last week, and I know I'll win," Sestak says.

Sestak's neither-rain-nor-sleet-nor-gloom-of-night effort and his go-it-alone, all-on-his-own "outsider" stance play nicely in an anti-incumbent environment. "We can't win without discontent," a Sestak backer tells me.

But, it's hard to win in a state as large as Pennsylvania with a door-to-door approach, and Specter is a survivor who knows how to run statewide.

And, yeah, Specter turns 80 next week, has his "act like a lady" moments and could be seated on the wrong end of the current political seesaw.

But Sestak is entering a critical period, one that will determine whether traditional measures of political success still matter and whether the congressman running like a mailman actually can deliver.

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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