SPOTLIGHT

Can Any Democrat Sink Sestak in Pennsylvania?

Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania
National Journal
Dec. 15, 2014, 6 a.m.

NEW YORK—Former Rep. Joe Ses­tak (D) and most of Pennsylvania’s power­ful Demo­crats don’t get along. (More bluntly: They hate each oth­er.) But right now, it doesn’t look like that will get in the way of Ses­tak be­ing the party’s Sen­ate nom­in­ee once again in 2016.

Josh Sha­piro (D), a well-re­garded county com­mis­sion­er in the Phil­adelphia sub­urbs, was seen as the most likely Ses­tak primary chal­lenger. But spec­u­la­tion at the Pennsylvania So­ci­ety, an an­nu­al gath­er­ing of the state’s polit­ic­al elite in New York City, ran rampant that Sha­piro was eye­ing a run for at­tor­ney gen­er­al in­stead. (Sit­ting AG Kath­leen Kane (D) is the tar­get of a grand jury in­vest­ig­a­tion and, just a year after some were clam­or­ing for her to run for high­er of­fice, is widely seen as in­cap­able of win­ning reelec­tion against a Re­pub­lic­an.)

— If Sha­piro opts against a Sen­ate run, anti-Ses­tak Demo­crats don’t even have a short-list of pos­sible al­tern­at­ives. Like most states, the Demo­crat­ic bench in Pennsylvania has been taken apart. A few pos­sible chal­lengers — like Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) or out­go­ing Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) — have already ruled out cam­paigns. Some of these Demo­crats re­main con­fid­ent they’ll find some­body even­tu­ally, but right now, they have no idea who.

— Don’t be sur­prised if Ses­tak’s al­lies start mak­ing pro­gress with the ar­gu­ment (one they’ve made privately in earn­est) that the 2010 Sen­ate nom­in­ee is the party’s best op­tion to take on Sen. Pat Toomey (R). Even some Re­pub­lic­ans privately ac­know­ledge that the one­time U.S. Navy ad­mir­al, who lost to Toomey by just two points in the 2010 GOP wave, still poses a real threat to the Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or — es­pe­cially if Hil­lary Clin­ton were to carry Pennsylvania by a re­l­at­ively com­fort­able mar­gin in the pres­id­en­tial race. And while some power­ful donors and oth­er elec­ted of­fi­cials might not like Ses­tak, many voters do.

It’ll take a lot of work to con­vince some Demo­crats that Ses­tak should be the party’s stand­ard-bear­er in 2016. But those same Demo­crats bet­ter be open to the pos­sib­il­ity: They might not have an­oth­er choice.— Alex Roarty

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