PA Senate Race: Joe Sestak No Longer Walks Alone

Kathleen McGinty Enters the Race With Key Dem Endorsements

Admiral Joe Sestak Still Hopes the Second Time’s the Charm

Joe Sestak commences his walking campaign for the US Senate in Center City Philadelphia.

Joe Sestak commences his walking campaign for the US Senate in Center City Philadelphia.

Ever since his heartbreaking loss in the 2010 US Senate race–he lost by two percentage points in an otherwise national Republican rout–Joe Sestak has had his eyes on the prize. In mere months after he came up tantalizingly short against Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sestak has been staying in touch with supporters, raising money and girding for a rematch.

After announcing a rematch last spring, Admiral Joe commenced a “walking tour” of the commonwealth–all 422 miles (no turnpike tolls!) worth–with high-top sneakers, a bomber jacket and the slogan, “Joe Sestak walks in your shoes.” After the announcement, Sestak traded his sneakers for the boots he wore in Afghanistan as a three-star admiral and national security expert.

The reviews were mixed. On the one hand, Sestak had obviously made valuable and sustaining contacts walking the length of the commonwealth. On the other hand, state Democratic party leaders seemed to collectively roll their eyes and label the walk a “stunt.”  Its “oddball” nature might have reminded them of the 2010 Senate race, when Sestak defied party regulars and went it alone. The party establishment has made no secret of its preference for “anybody but Joe.”

Well, their wishes have come true.

Kathleen McGinty

Kathleen McGinty

Katie McGinty Assures a Bruising Primary

Kathleen “Katie” McGinty last week resigned her position as chief of staff to Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) to run against Sestak in the Democratic gubernatorial primary next spring. Party leaders got what they wanted, but there’ll be a price tag attached: competitive primaries consume precious time, money and resources that could be otherwise spent on bloodying the Republican incumbent. McGinty’s and Sestak’s messaging against each other will make opposition research a breeze for Toomey’s campaign staff.

On the other hand, the winner will emerge with robust name recognition, a huge donor list and a victory notch on his or her belt. That’s politics, plain and simple.

This is not McGinty’s first election. She ran for governor last year and placed dead last in the Democratic primary, well behind eventual winner Tom Wolf. Wolf’s dominance of the campaign was so quick and thorough that his three opponents never had a fighting chance. McGinty impressed the political class by running a completely positive campaign. It begs the question: did she see the rout coming and was savvy enough to maintain her dignity by staying positive?

Perhaps former Governor Ed Rendell thinks so. Rendell is McGinty’s campaign chairman, surely a feather in her cap. Additionally, McGinty just received the endorsement of the United Steelworkers. These are just the beginning.

Toomey No Pushover

Given that 2016 is a presidential year with the accompanying spike in turnout of traditional Democratic constituencies, conventional wisdom would give the Democrats a leg up in the coming election. After all, Joe Sestak almost pulled it off with zero Democratic Party support in a Republican wave year. But according to

[Toomey] has had years to build his name, has taken several high-profile steps to soften his image among swing voters–most prominently leading a push for tougher background checks in handgun purchases–and had $5.8 million campaign cash as of his last report.

Retail politics, Sestak style. A house gathering in Montgomery County.

Retail politics, Sestak style. A house gathering in Montgomery County. He of course arrived on foot.

Separate Lives

Joseph A. Sestak, Jr., the grandson of Slovakian immigrants, has put his impressive thumb print on the American Dream. Following his father’s footsteps, he entered the US Naval Academy and graduated second in his class. The admiral’s distinguished military service would earn him a coveted national security position in the Clinton White House as Director for Defense Policy. Sestak reportedly “ruffled feathers” within the Bush administration by pushing for cuts in defense spending. The three-star admiral retired from the Navy in 2005 to help care for his young daughter who was recovering from brain cancer. (She did.)

McGinty: a career in environmental advocacy

McGinty: a career in environmental advocacy

Katie McGinty has dedicated her career to the environment and has racked up numerous high-profile achievements. She worked in the White House with Al Gore as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality in the Clinton administration. Her first sojourn in Harrisburg was as Governor Rendell’s Secretary of Environmental Protection.

In 2010 McGinty joined Weston Solutions, an environmental redevelopment and specialty construction firm. She was senior vice president and managing director when Governor Wolf came calling.

Meanwhile, this is how Pat Toomey was spending his time: swapping currency at Chemical Bank on Wall Street…trading derivatives at a London bank…doing the same in China for a Chinese billionaire…and being a lobbyist (and then president) for the Club for Growth, a right-wing think tank. Sen. Toomey voted twice to shut down the government and even introduced the “Pay China First” bill during the shutdown brinkmanship. (Toomey to social security recipients: go to the back of the line.)

Sestak endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. he was Clinton's national security advisor. It would come back to haunt him.

Sestak endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. He was Clinton’s national security advisor. It would come back to haunt him.

The 2010 Race

Sestak was elected to Congress in 2006 in Pennsylvania’s Republican-leaning 7th district…only the second Democrat to win the district since the Civil War. Most pollsters rated the 2006 race a toss-up mere weeks before election day. Sestak won by 13 points. He was reelected easily in 2008.

A US Senate seat came calling in 2010. Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter had shocked the political establishment by switching parties…becoming a Democrat to avoid a Tea Party-crazed primary against Pat Toomey.

Specter would have his primary anyway.

While Specter was gathering endorsements from grateful Democratic Party leaders, Sestak decided to go for it. Fighting off severe resistance from the White House and national Democrats, Admiral Joe beat Specter, 54-46. He visited all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, and declared, “there are no more kings and there are no more kingmakers in America.”

Helpful Joe creates a photo op in Northeast Philly.

Helpful Joe creates a photo op in Northeast Philly.

A very useful article in the Philadelphia Inquirer identified several focal points to keep an eye on in the Sestak-McGinty race. They include:

  • Democratic Party support – Ed Rendell’s quick ascension to the top of McGinty’s campaign tells you all you need to know about where the party kingpins will flock. In McGinty’s view, what’s not to like? On the other hand, the party whip has diminished over time. Sestak’s role as an “outsider” might play well to a growing number of independent voters.
  • Money – Sestak of course leads at this point, reporting $2.2 million in the bank as of June 30. Neither candidate is known for fundraising prowess; McGinty’s haul in the 2014 governor’s race was notably weak. But here is where McGinty can take advantage of her party endorsements. She can especially tap into EMILY’s List, which reportedly urged her to run.
  • Hillary and the Woman Factor – Pennsylvania female voters would be probably thrilled to see the glass ceiling break with a Clinton-McGinty juggernaut. Pennsylvania has never had a woman governor or senator. There are no women in the state’s congressional delegation.
  • Foreign Affairs –  This is Joe Sestak’s home field advantage. Katie McGinty would be best advised to keep her nose in those briefing books.

Let the fun begin.



Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Peter Gallimore says:

    Another well written and informative article Andy.