Pennsylvania Democrats have been quietly searching for a candidate to challenge Joe Sestak for the party’s 2016 Senate nomination, National Journal reported Thursday.
Sestak, the party’s 2010 nominee, has been gearing up for a rematch against Sen. Pat Toomey for two years. He lost by just two points in 2010.
Democratic leaders are concerned a Toomey-Sestak rematch will lead to similar results.
“In my estimation, if Joe Sestak is the nominee in 2016 for U.S. Senate, we will once again lose to Pat Toomey,” T.J. Rooney, the state Democratic Party’s Chair in 2010, told National Journal.
It was always assumed Sestak would have some company in the primary. But high-profile Democrats, such as Attorney General Kathleen Kane, have since taken their names out of the running. The last of those Democrats, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, is rumored to have lost interest in the bid, as well.
National Democratic leaders have also been approaching others about running. According to the National Journal’s report, Sen. Jon Tester, new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, reached out to Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald about pursuing the seat. And the DSCC has met with Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has popped up in the mix as well. Williams didn’t say he’s considering a bid, but he didn’t rule it out either.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a U.S. senator?” Williams told National Journal, noting that being a Senator would allow him the opportunity to pursue policy goals important to him. “I’m a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, so I take orders well. If they give me a call, I’ll listen.”
Williams has made headlines recently challenging new Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty. If he (or Hughes) ran and won, he would be the state’s first African American senator.
Rep. Bob Brady, chair of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, praised Williams and urged him to consider a bid.
“I would like to see him take a good look at it, and if he did, I certainly would be willing to support him,” Brady said.
A competitive Democratic primary, though, could ultimately weaken the candidate who survives it. Though Sestak may have differences with the party’s establishment, he did pose a formidable challenge to Toomey in 2010. And his more stubborn, independent attitude may be part of what endears him to voters.
“What this highlights is there is always a bit of distance between what party leaders want and what voters want,” said Dan Fee, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant. “This is a guy who, in a terrible year, barely lost. At the very least, he starts ahead.”