Why Joe Sestak Will Be the Democratic Nominee Against Pat Toomey

Joe-Sestak-headshotEditor’s Note: In response to a piece published last month, J.J. Balaban, a political operative who made the TV ads for Joe Sestak’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, wrote the following article. In an attempt to expand the scope of PoliticsPA, we will occasionally publish such pieces. We hope you enjoy and appreciate these efforts.

In politics, it pays to watch what people do, rather than what they say. PoliticsPA missed the boat by not following that lesson in its coverage of the 2016 U.S. Senate race earlier this month.

In the six weeks since the mid-term elections, it has become clear that former 3-star Admiral Joe Sestak is the favorite to be the Democratic nominee against Pat Toomey. Credible candidates like Matt Cartwright, Rob McCord, Kathleen Kane, Katie McGinty, and Allyson Schwartz have either announced they would not run or have taken jobs that would preclude them from getting in the race.

While Sestak has garnered significant party support around the state, a handful of party leaders who opposed Sestak’s 2010 challenge to Arlen Specter remain cool to his 2016 candidacy. But by focusing on those party leaders who still hold a grudge, PoliticsPA failed to analyze why Sestak is going to be the nominee anyway:

1) Joe Sestak has overperformed in every election he has run

In February of 2006, Joe returned to Delaware County after an absence of 31 years to serve in the Navy, and dismantled longtime incumbent Congressman Curt Weldon by 12% in a district with more Republicans than Democrats that had sent only one other Democrat to Congress since the Civil War.

Once elected, he engineered a legendary constituent service operation that handled four times as many constituent issues as the average Member of Congress….in part by keeping his congressional office open on nights and weekends to handle the needs of working people unable to visit a congressional office during normal business hours. Sestak got re-elected by 20% without spending a dime on direct voter contact beyond yard signs, even though his Republican opponent ran attack ads on TV against him.

In the 2010 Democratic primary, Arlen Specter had the strong support of labor, then-Governor Rendell, Senator Casey, and almost every Democratic interest group…but Sestak surged in one month from a 21% deficit to an 8% victory.

In the 2010 general election, Sestak lost, but once again overperformed relative to the rest of the ticket. Sestak – despite being outspent by a bigger margin than any Senate candidate in America – lost by less than 2% while the Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee lost by 9% and 4 Democratic Congressmen lost their re-elections by broad margins (Patrick Murphy lost by 7%, Paul Kanjorski lost by 9%, Kathy Dahlkemper lost by 11%, and Chris Carney lost by 10%).

Given that track record, rank-and-file Democrats would understandably see Sestak – the highest-ranking military officer ever to elected to Congress – as their strongest standard-bearer in 2016….a year in which the electorate will be a lot more favorable than the 2010 electorate in which he only narrowly lost.

2) Sestak is the hardest-working candidate in Pennsylvania politics

After Sestak narrowly lost in 2010, he declined high-paying lobbying jobs that were offered to him. Instead, Sestak went to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to thank many of the 18,000 volunteers who had supported his campaign. He has kept up that pace since announcing more than a year ago that he intended to run for the Senate, holding more than 400 events for county commissioners and even school board candidates. He’s raised more than $13 million in his 2010 run for the Senate and has already raised $1.2 million for the 2016 campaign.

3)  What is the argument against Joe Sestak’s candidacy that would work in a Democratic primary, where his independence is an asset?

Those members of the Democratic establishment cool to Sestak’s candidacy have demonstrated in the past several statewide elections in Pennsylvania a complete inability to win primaries. In 2010, Specter was supported by nearly every Democrat of note….and Sestak won. In 2012, most of that same group rallied behind Patrick Murphy to get the Democratic nomination for Attorney-General, but Kathleen Kane beat him handily. In 2014, the Democratic establishment split their support between Schwartz, McCord, and McGinty….but it was Tom Wolf who prevailed handily. (Note: Wolf pulled into such a large lead so early in the process that he attracted some support from the party establishment before the primary election, but he had virtually none before he rocketed into the lead and looked like the clear frontrunner.)

Sestak is better-known and better-liked by Democratic voters and insiders (as a whole) today than he was in 2010, when he toppled Arlen Specter – the longest-serving Senator in Pennsylvania history – despite Specter’s huge financial advantage and unanimous support from party leaders. Someone could emerge to challenge Sestak in the Democratic primary, but there’s a reason why the past 6 weeks have seen a lot of credible candidates decline to do so.

December 17th, 2014 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Senate, Top Stories | 40 Comments

40 thoughts on “Why Joe Sestak Will Be the Democratic Nominee Against Pat Toomey”

  1. Jonathan Lazorko says:

    Joe will lose again. The guy who should run on the Dem ticket is Ed Rendell-great state wide recognition.

  2. Unsanctioned R says:

    Only left-wing radicals call Senators who vote for Obamacare “GOP-lite.”

    Fact.

  3. David Diano says:

    Unsanctioned R-

    Specter was GOP-lite. The GOP treated him like a leper.

    The Dems don’t trust Casey on some issues, but he gets elected because he’s not pro-choice.

    But, for anyone to claim that Sestak is left-wing demonstrates that they have no idea what the left wing is. The progressives I know do not consider Sestak one of them, and don’t trust/like him.

    Arguably Sestak is better than Toomey, but so would be a dead cat.

  4. Unsanctioned R says:

    “PA, usually elects GOP-lite (see Bob Casey and Arlen Specter).”

    When you own seats in left-field foul territory, the perspective of the field gets skewed.

  5. DannyBoy says:

    Is Joe Sestak allowed in the U.S. Congress anymore? I thought he throw a stapler at one of his staffers and I’m pretty sure Capitol Police won’t allow him within the vicinity of the Capitol.

  6. PABleedingHeartLiberal says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Well thought out and makes a great argument for Admiral Sestak. There was another really good article in The Hill titled “Unshakeable Sestak”. I highly suggest everyone take a look: http://www.republicanpartyconvention.com/blogs/ballot-box/227354-unshakeable-sestak

  7. David Diano says:

    Lynn-

    That ad by Toomey was so weird for those of us on the Left who know Sestak and how non-progressive he really is.

    steventodd-
    Specter would have beat Toomey, because in PA you need to win the center, and Specter owned the center. He also had years of opposition research on Toomey’s right-wing extremism, and $10 million cash-on-hand in the spring of 2010 that never got spent against Toomey.

    PA, usually elects GOP-lite (see Bob Casey and Arlen Specter). Sestak painted himself to the left of Specter in the primary while he let Toomey capture the center. Sestak works hard but he’s a terrible politician when it comes to message and deconstructing his opponent. Mostly this is because Sestak doesn’t fundamentally care about the issues he’s debating and only cares about having a fancy title next to his name.

    Josh represents a real Democrat who knows how to explain Democratic and progressive principles to voters.

  8. Lynne says:

    Does anybody remember “There’s left, there’s far left, and then there’s Joe Sestak”? When you talk about “name recognition,” that’s the phrase I think of. Toomey could save money…just re-use the negative ads he has on hand!

  9. Ready for Josh Shapiro says:

    Like us at Facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

    https://www.facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

  10. steventodd says:

    I have no opinion on this race yet. I like Sestak, I like many of those murmured as challengers. I fear for our side’s messaging, but hold hope. I refer to the most significant insight in this article…which has little to do with Sestak or this race:

    The Democratic establishment “…in the past several statewide elections in Pennsylvania a complete inability to win primaries. In 2010, Specter was supported by nearly every Democrat of note….and Sestak won. In 2012, most of that same group rallied behind Patrick Murphy to get the Democratic nomination for Attorney-General, but Kathleen Kane beat him handily. In 2014, the Democratic establishment split their (early) support between Schwartz, McCord, and McGinty….but it was Tom Wolf who prevailed handily.”

    This proves what we on the left have been saying for years, and what I think those in the middle may even be forced to acknowledge: We can’t win by fielding GOP-lite candidates and/or taking GOP-lite positions on issues. Unless We The (supposed) Left fill that role, We The People will just shrug our shoulders and vote for the real GOP.

  11. Jo Blow says:

    Isaac L. is exactly right about Sestak. The sad thing is that Sestak will probably be the nominee, and I’ll end up voting for that narcissistic asshole. My choices will be between a sociopath and a guy who hates poor people. Can’t wait.

  12. Isaac L. says:

    By this point, I suspect most veteran staffers know well enough to stay away from his campaign if they have any self-respect or at all value what they do. Staffers know that campaigns are notorious for not paying well and that the difference is made up by working, in part, for the good of the cause, but the way Joe Sestak and his siblings completely devalued the hard work and extremely long hours campaign staffers put in is nigh unforgivable. His methods approach the realm of being sociopathic and his excuses for paying poverty wages are specious at best. There is a difference between being a frugal steward of one’s donors’ money and being a cheap, exploitative narcissist. I’m sad to say that Joe Sestak falls squarely in the latter camp.

  13. Delco Dem Birds Fan says:

    David if it’s that he lost a star, that is a huge deal. Civilians on this board have no clue what this means Anybody but Sestak.

  14. tommyd says:

    Sestak lost to Toomey by only two points – and that was without the support of both the state and national Democratic organizations. Odd that he is accused of being “too Republican” since it was the Democratic leadership’s support of a Republican that cost them the primary, and eventually and indirectly, the general election. I hold Rendell, Obama and the Democratic campaign committee responsible for the election of Toomey.

    I’ve heard Sestak speak several times – and he has a good stump presence. He exudes strength and intelligence and his positions are solidly left-of-center. I’ve also heard Shapiro, and am impressed by his energy and intelligence. The way I look at it, should Shapiro run for Senate, we will have a tough decision to make in the primary, and a good shot of sending Toomey back to that Wall Street basement where they were keeping him. The only thing that worries me is the organization’s ability to screw up even the best of prospects.

  15. Unsanctioned R says:

    When your first support is that he put a wounded bird out of his misery, you lose all credibility. Frankly, reading this tripe was a waste of time. Shapiro is a much better candidate who people like and will rally around. Sestak’s reputation as a jerk precedes him.

  16. LMx says:

    Joe Sestak will never win the Democratic Primary. Assuming all his former staffers are registered Democrats, he wouldn’t get enough votes to win — they’d vote for his opponent. Also, Balaban says that Sestak has been, “holding more than 400 events for county commissioners and even school board candidates.” Really? As a local Democratic Party member, I’m unaware of a SINGLE event that he’s held for local candidates. Unless he’s talking about events like ones that I’ve been at, where he shows up uninvited, an hour into the program, disheveled in mom jeans, pronounces the candidates’ names wrong, rambles on about “American Exceptionalism,” then runs away. He is so unbelievably arrogant, in-eloquent, and out of touch that I’d be surprised if he won an election within his own family.

    Also, this entire piece is self-contradictory. Here, Sestak is acting as if he is the anointed one but goes on to criticize what he calls the “establishment.” You cannot be both king and kingmaker. And yes, I said “Sestak is acting” because it’s obvious that this piece was written by him and his campaign.

    I voted for Sestak in 2010 during the primary and general elections, but it’s clear that Sestak is now in some sort of personal vendetta against Toomey, and voters will not be willing to be participants in some sort of grudge-match. After meeting him last year, I know that the election process is just process for him — he wants to beat Toomey, irregardless of the people of Pennsylvania or democracy.

    We do not even know the candidates for the 2016 Presidential Election, much less the PA Senate Election, yet Balaban assumes the ballot is set. There are almost 500 days until nomination petitions are due, and anyone could emerge from now until then. If you are one of them, and need help with petitions, you can email me at 2djcuc2@gmail.com and I can make sure you are well over the requirement, because we know that like in 2010, Sestak will challenge any opponent’s petitions in court.

  17. Tony Campisi says:

    ” …the Democratic establishment cool to Sestak’s candidacy have demonstrated in the past several statewide elections in Pennsylvania a complete inability to win primaries.” Let’s get real people. The Democratic Establishment in Pennsylvania has demonstrated a complete inability to win ELECTIONS, period. Let’s hope Governor Wolf cleans out the state committee and puts in people capable of doing the things a political party is supposed to do. Like win.

  18. Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D. says:

    @ “Phil Perspective”:

    What was “wrong” with the piece as-written is illustrated by the focus of these reactions thereto, namely, his conscious omission of an “elephant” [donkey?] in the room; readers would have benefited were the author to have merely been asked to address the impact he felt Josh would have had on his analysis.

    What was “wrong” with your input was the suggestion that Josh is “a bigot who cheered on the Gaza slaughter”; as DD knows, you are making yourself vulnerable to a series of e-mail exchanges [extending over multiple sites] that led, in his case, to establishing the following:

    “You have advocated the overthrow of the Israeli government throughout Israel’s entire lifetime … explaining why you have endorsed the behavior of Hamas [which the USA has designated as a terrorist organization] that is, itself, promoting policies that are consonant with those of the Islamic State.”

    politicspa.com/kathleen-kane-tells-cnn-pornographic-emails-included-pictures-of-children/61928/comment-page-2/#comment-925106

    You are cordially invited to trace-backwards to review the “answer sheet” [plus a few digressions]; you will then wish to withdraw your anti-Semitic barb [to save us all a lot of time].

  19. David Diano says:

    Delco Dem Birds fan-

    He did lose a star. He reached 3-star vice-admiral but retired (ie forced out) early as two-star rear-admiral.

    Shawn-
    Three points:
    1) $$$ bring name recognition. That’s how Wolf won, and Specter certainly had more name recognition than Sestak.
    2) Josh can bring in more $$$ and will surpass Sestak the next quarter if/after he announces.
    3) Joe has low name recognition. He’s more known as “that admiral guy” than by his name.

    I agree that Wolf would support Shapiro over Sestak.

    Former Dem Staffer-

    Absolutely right. If the Unions really understood how badly Sestak treats his workers, they would picket his campaign offices every day.

  20. Former Dem Staffer says:

    If Joe Sestak does not learn to treat his staff like human beings, pay them a reasonable wage, and just generally be a decent person he will not be a US Senator. Someone needs to inform the retired 3-Star Admiral that he is not in the military anymore and that in the civilian world you only get the respect you earn. The “poor command environment” he was known to maintain during his tenure in the military has thus far continued in his life as an elected official and candidate. Until that changes any Democrat who votes for him is doing a disservice to their party and the people who work hard to elect Democrats across the state.

  21. Shawn says:

    It is clear that Sestak will win the primary race. He has the hold on the biggest thing that gets you votes, name recognition. Shapiro will be a little hard pressed in a primary fight against Sestak. He will have to raise millions and push for debates to prove himself, and he will have to spend a lot on TV ads and mailers. Though something of note, depending on what Wolf has done by 2016, and how his popularity and approval is, his endorsement will a lot of wait. And it would appear that he would certainly endorse Shapiro if he ran.

  22. Delco Dem Birds fan says:

    I had heard rumors that he lost a star but non military types do not want to go after him on this point. Losing a star is a HUGE deal if in fact this is true.

  23. Ricdw says:

    When you list Kathleen Kane as a credible candidate, you immediately destroy any sense of credibility. Speaking of credibility, Nick Fields, you are destroying PoliticsPA’s. #BringBackBrittanyFoster.

  24. David Diano says:

    Larry-
    Joe doesn’t have a Philly accent. He left the area 40 years ago. He has a bit of a southern accent that slips out from his past 16 years living in Alexandria VA.

    Josh’s IQ is probably double the average in the PA House, so I wouldn’t expect them to “get” him.

  25. Larry says:

    DD, he comes across as creepy because he looks like the emperor from Star Wars and has that horrendous Philly accent that you probably have too.

    As for Josh Shapiro, people have told jokes about him behind his back in the House since he was here. Nobody takes that guy as seriously as he takes himself.

  26. Mark says:

    If you think Joe Sestak is the hardest working candidate in PA politics, you clearly haven’t met Rich Fitzgerald.

  27. David Diano says:

    Where to begin….

    1) J.J. Balaban is a paid operative with vested interest in promoting Sestak

    2) He leave Josh Shapiro out of the list of credible candidates.

    3) When Sestak got elected and re-elected he had NO coattails. This is because he actively undermined the rest of the Democratic ticket by reaching out to Republican, while distancing himself and belittling the rest of the Dems on the ticket. And during his failed 2010 bid, he actively abandoned the rest of the ticket and the Democratic party.

    4) Joe is the worst debater in PA politics. Toomey runs circle around him. Joe comes off as “creepy” to voters.

    5) Joe raise 1.2 million for his campaign so far, but hasn’t budged an inch in the six months of the last two quarterly reports. He’s stuck in a ditch and spinning his wheels. Josh could raise 1.2 million in a single quarter.

    6) “Sestak is better-known and better-liked by Democratic voters and insiders (as a whole) today than he was in 2010” That statement is 100% false. Joe is less well know among the voters, and he is more reviled by the party insiders who know what a selfish fraud he is. A lot of people who worked for him in the past refuse to do so again.

    7) The analysis of Wolf is completely wrong, especially for someone who does TV ads. Wolf spent a lot of money early in the race to define himself and introduce himself to voters. The other candidates couldn’t (or wouldn’t) spend the resources that early and never gained traction. Also, part of the reason for Specter’s loss in the primary was that he knew Sestak was a political clown, and never took him seriously enough when he had the chance to take him out early on. Specter was focused on the General election against Toomey. The Dem primary vote was more about Dems revenging themselves on Specter for Anita Hill than it was about Sestak.

  28. Kevin T. says:

    This article is a desperate attempt to rally support for a flawed candidate. Sestak is done.

    Although, I’m sure Toomey would love to defeat Sestak a second time.

  29. John M. says:

    The unbridled “passion”(and obvious dog-whistling)by Shapiro supporters here makes Sestak look that much more appealing.I may have already made my choice, based on this post alone.

  30. Phil Perspective says:

    Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.:
    What’s wrong with the piece as written? He included a disclaimer that the piece was written by a pro-Sestak guy.

  31. Phil Perspective says:

    Ready for Josh Shapiro:
    Why would I want to vote for a bigot who cheered on the Gaza slaughter? What does he bring to the table that Sestak doesn’t? More happy-talk nonsense about “working across the aisle”? We need someone unafraid to take on the GOP, Big Oil and the Banksters.

  32. Ready for Josh Shapiro says:

    JOSH SHAPIRO FOR US SENATE

    Be sure to check out our newly redesigned Facebook page and join in our effort to recruit Josh Shapiro to run for the US Senate! Let’s unite behind Josh and in doing so nominate the best candidate to help elect a Democratic majority in 2016!

    **And be sure to check back soon for our first official event announcement!**

    Like us at Facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

    https://www.facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

  33. Burgermeister Meisterberger says:

    This windbag has no chance of winning a primary or general election for U.S. Senate.

  34. Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D. says:

    @ Sy Snyder, a suggestion:

    Run these [overt-advocacy] opinion-pieces, but insist their author accommodate all reasonable counter-examples to their claims; in this case, it is glaring that he was not “invited” to address whether Josh could be included among his [undocumented] exclusions.

  35. Joe C. L. says:

    The Choice is Clear:

    Josh Shapiro:
    -Former Deputy Speaker of PA House of Representatives
    -State Representative, 2005-2012
    -Chairman and Commissioner of Montgomery County, 2012-Present
    -Led a turnaround in Montgomery County
    -Eliminated large budget deficit and reduced Overall Debt
    -Early supporter of Governor-Elect Tom Wolf
    -Member of the Wolf Transition Team
    -Vice Chair of Budget Task Force
    -Former Chief of Staff to US Rep. Joe Hoeffel

    Joe Sestak:
    -Relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate
    -Verbally abused staff
    -Worst Attendance of ANY Pennsylvania Congressman
    -411th out of 435 in Attendance in the US House
    -Missed over 130 votes
    -2 term US Congressman who gave up his seat to defeat an incumbent Democratic US Senator who did more for health care and cancer research than any member of Congress in history.
    -Cost us a seat in the US House by running for Senate
    -Used his daughter in political ads
    -Will do and say anything to get a vote
    -Lied about the president offering him a job to get out of the race
    -Divisive, Arrogant and a terrible speaker/debater
    -Oh and by the way, we already tried Sestak. He lost. Remember!

  36. tommyd says:

    Waiting on David…

  37. KSDF says:

    In an attempt to expand the scope of PoliticsPA, we will occasionally publish such pieces.

    Read: Rather than publish our own articles for which we will be excoriated for failing to comprehend basic facts about Pennsylvania government like “members of the House of Representatives are not called Congressmen,” we’ll let some interested hack write our articles for us today. No need to thank us. We gave ourselves the day off.

  38. 13thDistrictDem says:

    Here we run an opinion piece about how awesome Joe Sestak is written by one of his consultants…

  39. Bill says:

    This seems like less of an analysis and more of a campaign ad

  40. Ready for Josh Shapiro says:

    Be sure to check out our newly redesigned Facebook page and join in our effort to recruit Josh Shapiro to run for the US Senate! Let’s unite behind Josh and in doing so nominate the best candidate to help elect a Democratic majority in 2016!

    **And be sure to check back soon for our first official event announcement!**

    Like us at Facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

    https://www.facebook.com/ReadyforJoshShapiro

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