Rep. Joe Sestak (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Dec. 12, 1951, Secane .
Education: U.S. Naval Academy, B.S. 1974, Harvard U., M.P.A. 1980, Ph.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Susan); 1 child.
Military career: Navy, 1974-2005 (Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq).
Professional Career: Dir. for Defense Policy, National Security Council, 1994-97; Anti-terrorism unit dir., 2001-02; Commander, George Washington Aircraft Carrier Battle Group, 2002-03.
The congressman from the 7th District is Joe Sestak, a Democrat elected in 2006. Sestak is a retired admiral who spent 31 years in the Navy, and he is the highest ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress. (Navy Admiral Thomas Hart was appointed to the Senate from Connecticut.) He grew up in a large family in Delaware County, and followed his father, a World War II captain, into the Navy. He graduated second in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy, and rose through the ranks to become a three-star admiral. He has a doctoral degree from Harvard University. During his career, Sestak held various operational commands. He was a defense adviser for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He commanded the George Washington aircraft carrier battle group during combat operations in Afghanistan. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Sestak was the director of “Deep Blue,” an anti-terrorism think tank within the Navy. In July 2005, his young daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and he and his family’s life revolved around a Washington hospital for four months. He said his experience with families lacking quality health insurance caused him to rethink his life priorities. After officially retiring from the Navy, and after his daughter was declared free of cancer, Sestak in early 2006 launched his campaign for Congress against 10-term incumbent Republican Curt Weldon, who had not been seriously challenged since he won the seat in 1986.
|Joe Sestak (D)||209,955||(60%)||($1,162,719)|
|Craig Williams (R)||142,362||(40%)||($598,846)|
|Joe Sestak (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (56%)
A political novice, Sestak needed time to polish his retail campaigning skills. But he established his credibility by raising $1.1 million by June 2006. Weldon, on the other hand, struggled to shake off the cobwebs. In April, Weldon drew criticism for suggesting that Sestak should have sent his daughter to a Pennsylvania hospital rather than to one in Washington, D.C. The comment was part of Weldon’s strategy to portray Sestak, who had spent roughly three decades away from the suburban Philadelphia district, as an outsider. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee played up news reports that Weldon planned a Memorial Day expedition to Iraq to look for alleged weapons of mass destruction, contributing to the view that Weldon had indulged his interest in national security ahead of his district’s economic needs. Weldon responded by adopting a more energetic fundraising pace, relying heavily on contributions from the defense industry.
Sestak voiced support for a U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which Weldon opposed. Weldon questioned Sestak’s temperament, citing an August 2005 Navy Times report that he was relieved of his duties as deputy chief of naval operations a month earlier because of a “poor command climate.” But Weldon’s offensive was abruptly rendered moot when the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the homes of Weldon’s daughter and a close associate as part of a probe into whether Weldon improperly used his influence to win contracts for his daughter’s lobbying firm. Weldon denied wrongdoing and questioned the curious timing of the raid, which the FBI said was necessary to preserve evidence from destruction. In a tough political environment against an aggressive, well-funded challenger, Weldon sank quickly. The national Republican Party scaled back its ad buys and financial support for his campaign. Sestak won by 56%-44%.
In the House, Sestak has steered close to the ideological center and spent much time cementing his roots at home. On the Armed Services Committee, he began 2007 by introducing a bill to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, but he later voted to continue funding without deadlines. “Do you play chicken with our troops? Absolutely not,” he told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “There has to be a strategy, [not just] get out tomorrow.” By August 2007, he said that withdrawal could take two years. “As we say in the military, amateurs do tactics, experts do logistics.” Those views put him at odds with U.S. Rep. John Murtha, the powerful chairman of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee from Pennsylvania who was the chief proponent of withdrawal deadlines.
On the Education and Labor Committee, Sestak won passage of his proposal to increase flexibility for veterans repaying student loans. On local issues, he opposed the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight-path changes that increased noise over parts of the Delaware County.
Republicans failed to recruit a top-flight challenger to Sestak in 2008, and he won easily against former federal prosecutor and Gulf War veteran Craig Williams.