The Democrats running for Governor breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday as former Rep. Joe Sestak confirmed that he has has his eyes on a 2016 Senate run rather than a 2014 campaign for Governor.
He and Rep. Allyson Schwartz were tied at 15% each in a late April Quinnipiac poll of a hypothetical gubernatorial primary. Sestak hosted a fundraiser for Schwartz’s Occupy movement opponent Nate Kleinman in 2012 and the two are not known to have a warm relationship.
But the Montgomery County Congresswoman saluted Sestak in a statement.
“Like Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth, I admire Rep. Sestak’s lifetime of service to Pennsylvania and our nation,” she said. “In Congress, he was leader on critical issues — including our nation’s military, national security, and veterans affairs. I appreciate his deep commitment to public service and wish him well.”
Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger agreed.
“Admiral Sestak has already given great service to this country both in his military career and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Hanger. “He will make a great U.S. senator. I wish him the best of luck as he seeks to unseat Pat Toomey, the fourth most conservative senator in the Senate.”
“Even before he announced his intention to run for the Senate, the Democratic race for governor was wide open,” he continued.
Update: Likewise former Pa. Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf of York County.
“Admiral Sestak is a champion for Pennsylvania families. He deserves thanks for his past service and continued efforts on behalf of all of us,” Wolf said. “My campaign for governor will continue to focus on creating jobs and leveling the playing field for the middle-class.”
Update 2: So too pastor Max Myers.
“Joe Sestak has the gift of encouragement. We have highly appreciated the opportunity to be the recipients of that encouragement which Joe has given to our campaign over these past months,” Myers said. “We are pleased to hear that Joe is making plans to run for U.S. Senate and we strongly support this effort. America desperately needs more people in leadership that have the abilities and character that we all have come to admire and appreciate in Joe.”
Update 3: Former Pa. DEP Sec. Katie McGinty agrees.
“Joe Sestak’s decision to run for the Senate makes a wide open Democratic gubernatorial primary even more of a toss-up,” she said. “It will bring an even greater focus on our campaign to create new jobs and a better future for Pennsylvania working families.”
Update 4: Pa. Treasurer Rob McCord echoed their compliments.
“Joe Sestak’s accomplishments in the U.S. Navy and in the U.S. Congress are exemplary, and I wish him the best of luck in his campaign,” McCord said. “Pennsylvanians who care about funding education and creating good-paying jobs would be fortunate to have Joe Sestak fighting for them as their Senator.”
It’s tough to say which of the Democrats seeking to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett benefits most from Sestak’s decision to decline the race. Sestak is well known and lead most of the early primary polls, thanks in part to his statewide run for Senate in 2010.
His base in Delaware County would have put him in a pitched southeastern battle with Schwartz and Pa. Treasurer Rob McCord, both of Montgomery County, and McGinty of Chester County.
Hanger, Wolf and Myers have also announced bids. They live in the Harrisburg area in Dauphin, York and Cumberland counties, respectively. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and state Sen. Mike Stack (D-Phila) may also compete for eastern Pa. voters.
McCord, Pawlowski and Stack have not officially declared bids.
19.6% of registered Pa. Democrats live in Philadelphia, 6.2% in Montgomery, 4.6% in Bucks, 4.1% in Delaware and 3.1% in Chester counties according to Labels & Lists.
A Sestak candidacy would have opened the door even wider for a western Pa. Democrat.
His departure probably most benefits Schwartz, leaving her as the best-known candidate in the race in SEPA and elsewhere, and the most potent fundraiser.
The move also keeps the door open for McCord, who would have been hard pressed to win even his own geographic base against both Schwartz and Sestak. He’s also now the most prominent male candidate.
Wolf, of south central Pa., probably wishes Sestak were still in the race. He’d have a tough time cracking into Dems’ SEPA base, so he’d benefit from seeing it as fractured as possible. Then again, it could be a benefit for him: Sestak performed well among western Pa. and conservative Democrats in 2010.