Last September, former Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania stopped by the Harrisburg Patriot-News office to tell them he was going to announce his official 2016 Senate bid soon, which was something a little more concrete than his exploratory committee he created last year.
Sen. Pat Toomey beat Sestak in the 2010 Senate race, but he says the climate is different (via CBS Pittsburgh):
“The fact we came so close with a great grassroots organization says, wow, 2016 is a different year,” Sestak said.
The former suburban Philadelphia congressman said Toomey votes more conservatively than he lets on at home.
“He says one thing in Pennsylvania and votes a different way down in Washington, D.C.,” Sestak said.
Sestak said Toomey votes no all the time against transportation, autism funding, Alzheimer’s research, immigration reform, and veterans’ benefits.
“He has been ranked the ninth most obstructionist senator of all 100 senators down there,” Sestak said, citing The National Journal.
Sestak sees himself as an independent Democrat, having defeated Arlen Specter against the wishes of President Barack Obama and party leaders.
“There’s one focus that I have and that is to restore trust in our leaders. It’s the biggest deficit in America,” Sestak said.
There’s no doubt that Toomey faces a huge obstacle. 2016 is a presidential year, which means higher turnout in areas that decide elections in Pennsylvania, mainly the collar counties around Philadelphia (Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware) and the Pittsburgh area. Toomey lost Allegheny County–where Pittsburgh resides–in 2010, Montgomery County by 23,458 votes, and Delaware County by 24,889 votes, but won Bucks County by a little over 14,000 votes. Yet, all three counties have voted Democratic since 1992–and all three have more registered Democrats than Republicans.
As for Allegheny County, the voter registration there is almost 60 percent Democratic–and the last time the county went Republican in a presidential race was in 1972. Yet, it’s not impossible to be a Republican and win in Allegheny; Tom Corbett was able to beat Democrat Dan Onorato by a meager 460 votes in the 2010 gubernatorial race. But, for 2016, let’s just assume that Allegheny, which went for Sestak in 2010, will remain with Sestak in 2016.
While Pennsylvania Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the majority of the county courthouses, the Keystone State has yet to break their love affair with Democrats. Despite the GOP dominating the areas between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (the T), it’s not enough to counter the Democratic turnout in those two urban bastions of liberal support.
Tom Smith, the 2012 Republican Senate candidate, could be used as an example for how GOP candidates fare statewide when it is a presidential year. The entire ticket got roasted that year. At the same time, Smith was running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey who had a natural advantage being a sitting senator as well as benefiting from the Casey name.
And, of course, higher turnout is a detriment to Toomey’s re-election chances. In Bucks County alone, a total of 228,539 votes were cast in the senate race in 2010; in 2012, 307,853 ballots were cast in the race between Smith and Casey–with Casey winning handily.
If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, Toomey may be in for the fight of his life. He needs to at least win one of the collar counties around Philadelphia to have some shot at re-election in two years.
Correction: The original post had the wrong voter counts for Buck County in the 2010 and 2012 Senate elections. The post has been updated to reflect the changes. We apologize for the error.