PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak began a 422-mile walk across the state Wednesday to kick off his campaign to capture the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Pat Toomey.
Sestak announced his candidacy for the 2016 election outside Philadelphia's Independence Hall. He called for more government accountability and decried the "trust deficit" between politicians and the people who elect them.
"I want to earn, starting today, step by step, walking in the shoes of we Pennsylvanians, the trust of our people," Sestak said. "So join me. Walk with me."
The casually dressed Democrat then changed out of a pair of high-top Reeboks and put on military-issued boots to walk a few blocks to the city's Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral from suburban Philadelphia, has set up a potential rematch with Toomey. He narrowly lost to Toomey, a former investment banker and congressman, in 2010.
Toomey's campaign did not return a request for comment, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement saying that Pennsylvania voters already rejected Sestak's "partisan agenda" five years ago.
"The only person calling for an encore performance from Congressman Joe Sestak in 2016 is Congressman Joe Sestak," said committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
The 63-year-old candidate is campaigning under the slogan: "Joe Sestak is walking in your shoes." He plans to walk with a different group each day — including senior citizens, small business owners and law enforcement — until he reaches the western border of the state. Staffers said the effort would likely take until the end of the month.
Sestak was elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives before pursuing the Senate post in 2010.
He then notched a shocking primary upset against five-term Sen. Arlen Specter to win the Democratic nomination and square off against the conservative Toomey. Sestak lost the general election by 2 percentage points.
Sestak flirted with a gubernatorial candidacy in 2013, but ultimately decided to pursue the Senate again.
Friends of Joe Sestak ended last year with about $1.5 million in cash on hand, compared with $5.8 million for Friends of Pat Toomey, according to federal campaign filings.
As the 2013-14 recipient of the General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership, Sestak taught at Dickinson College, the U.S. Army War College and Penn State University's schools of law and international affairs. All are based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
He also taught public policy courses at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Sestak's 31-year Navy career included commanding an aircraft carrier battle group in Afghanistan and Iraq following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.