HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Katie McGinty, the former top aide to Gov. Tom Wolf, said Tuesday she is running for U.S. Senate, setting the stage for a 2016 Democratic primary showdown over Republican Sen. Pat Toomey's seat in a state Democrats see as crucial to their goal of recapturing a Senate majority.
McGinty's announcement had been expected since she stepped down as the governor's chief of staff nearly two weeks ago. She vowed to "stand up for middle class and hard-working families who deserve a shot at the American dream."
"Pennsylvania needs a senator who will focus on the needs of working Pennsylvanians — fighting for good schools, decent wages, and affordable health care," she said.
McGinty will face opposition in the primary from Joe Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral and two-term congressman who narrowly lost to Toomey in 2010. Sestak had beaten Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter in the primary despite support for him from national Democratic leaders, including President Barack Obama.
McGinty, 52, had been courted by national party leaders, some of whom were unhappy that Sestak was seeking a rematch with Toomey, and Emily's List, a Democratic group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights.
Her resume includes a stint on the staff of U.S. Sen. Al Gore in 1989 and service as an environmental adviser in the Bill Clinton White House and Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. She also served as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection in Gov. Ed Rendell's administration.
McGinty subsequently worked in the private sector. She lost her first election campaign last year coming in last in the four-way Democratic gubernatorial primary but impressing Wolf enough to hire her as his top staffer.
A Toomey campaign spokesman said the incumbent was focused on the general election in November 2016.
"Katie McGinty is a capable person — we welcome her to the competition of ideas, and we'll let the Democrats sort out who their candidate will be next April," said the spokesman, Steve Kelly.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose mission is to elect a Democratic Senate majority, isn't taking sides in the prospective battle between McGinty and Sestak in the April primary. Its spokesman said Toomey, a fiscal conservative and free-market advocate, is politically vulnerable.
"We're talking to both candidates. We think both candidates can win," said the spokesman, Justin Barasky.
McGinty criticized Toomey in an online video as "part of that Washington mess that has left middle-class families out and behind."
Sestak, 63, said in an email statement Tuesday that he is running for Senate to earn Pennsylvanians' trust. He attacked Toomey's voting record but did not mention McGinty.
"Trust is the biggest deficit in America today. The establishment has let us down — Washington has forgotten that it is about people above party, above type," the statement says.