PA Senate Race: Democrats Finally Have Someone To Pit Against Joe Sestak

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 9:15 AM
PA Senate Race: Democrats Finally Have Someone To Pit Against Joe Sestak

After Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro turned down the offer, Democrats were left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Will Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who narrowly defeated former Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) in the 2010 election, cruise to a second term? Sestak’s announcement to seek a rematch with Toomey next year was greeted with a lukewarm reception from Pennsylvania Democrats. Many Democrats think Sestak can’t win statewide. And they’re still mad that he did not heed calls from state and national Democrats, along with the leader of his party–President Obama–to not challenge the late Sen. Arlen Specter in a primary. Specter had just switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Sestak would go on to defeat Specter in that race.

Well, the ending wasn’t what Democrats wanted in 2010, but Sestak is unfazed. He often notes that those who aren’t happy with his 2016 candidacy are establishment “Washington D.C. Democrats.” Regardless, Democrats now have someone that will hopefully push Mr. Sestak aside, win statewide, and clinch a race that many in the party view as a “must-win.” Enter Katie McGinty, the Chief of Staff for PA’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. She’s expected to resign today and make it official at a later date. National Journal’s Alex Roarty  scooped the story last night:

Pennsylvania Democrat Katie McGinty will resign her position as chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday in preparation to run for the United States Senate, two sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell National Journal.

McGinty will not make a formal declaration Thursday that she's running for the seat held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, according to the sources. But her decision to resign her high-profile job after only seven months all but guarantees a Senate campaign, sources added. They expect a formal campaign announcement within weeks.

McGinty's entrance would be a major victory for Democrats in Washington, who have scoured Pennsylvania looking for a top-tier candidate in what should be a politically-crucial Senate battleground in 2016. Party leaders are wary about the only Democrat in the race, former Rep. Joe Sestak, concerned that his unwillingness to listen to strategic advice could cost them a winnable race against the well-entrenched Toomey.

But Sestak is certain to stick in the race against McGinty, setting up a highly competitive primary battle.

Roarty also mentioned that McGinty isn’t new to politics. A fact that was elaborated on by the Patriot-News’ Christian Alexandersen, who wrote that she “worked for then-Senator Al Gore on initiatives aimed at strengthening patent protections, encouraging manufacturing and supporting science education, according to her online bio. Later, McGinty served as deputy assistant for President Bill Clinton and then served as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.”

Alexandersen cited G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, saying, “McGinty really wants to win an election and serve. So far, he said, she's been unable to do that. A run for the Senate seat may be her chance to taste primary election victory.”

This second go-around at an election could be easier, as the field will be considerably less crowded. McGinty ran in the 2014 gubernatorial primary and was shellacked by then-candidate Tom Wolf. Nevertheless, Wolf chose her to quarterback his super PAC after some intraparty drama within the PA Democratic Party, specifically the refusal of soon-to-be-former state party chairman Jim Burn’s refusal to step down at the time. Typically, the gubernatorial nominee picks the next party chair.

In the end, Wolf’s PAC, Campaign for a Fresh Start, would pretty much run all campaign operations, bypassing the state party. Yet, Emily Schultheis, also of the National Journal, wrote in 2014, that McGinty’s failed gubernatorial bid provided the fresh start that has evolved into a senate bid:

Veteran operatives in the state say McGinty's primary run, though unsuccessful, widely impressed Pennsylvania Democrats—meaning she's both an asset to Wolf now and a future candidate, if she's interested in running. Pennsylvania strategists say it's likely she'll be back on the ballot in 2016…

Yes, indeed. For now, Sen. Toomey does enjoy a comfortable lead over Sestak. Let’s see what happens in the next round of polling.

Last note: Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski–a Democrat–also launched a bid for the U.S. Senate. On July 8, four days after federal agents arrived with search warrants at city hall, he suspended his campaign “to fully focus on assisting in the federal investigation of Allentown contracting practices both prior to his being elected and since."