Inside Politics

Sestak, Toomey now running for November

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Democratic Party leaders and labor unions began lining up Wednesday behind the party nominee whom they had fought to defeat in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate primary as the Republican opponent attacked him as too liberal for the state's voters.

President Barack Obama called U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak after the victory to pledge his support, Gov. Ed Rendell said he would do whatever Sestak asked of him in the campaign and the AFL-CIO targeted Republican Pat Toomey.

"If (voters) want Wall Street, they can elect Toomey," Bill George, the outgoing president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said Wednesday. "If they want someone who stands up for working families, they can elect Sestak." Sestak on Tuesday beat five-term U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, 54 percent to 46 percent, with nearly all precincts reporting. A tireless campaigner and former Navy admiral respected for his strategic analysis, Sestak won with nimble attacks, an effective message and some missteps by the better-funded Specter. Sestak had trailed badly in polls into April, but closed the gap quickly when he began advertising on TV, taking special aim at Specter's party switch last year.

Specter, a moderate and a fixture in American politics for three decades, secured the party's support last year when he switched his registration from Republican to Democrat.

While many Democratic voters simply refused to support Specter, Sestak also tried to tap into unrest over the recession and partisan gridlock by painting Washington as a ship run aground by politicians who care more about saving their jobs than helping people.

As late as Tuesday while the polls were still open, Specter said Sestak could not beat Toomey in the fall.

Rendell maintained Wednesday that Specter would have been a better fall candidate because of his appeal to moderate Republicans, but George conceded that Sestak might be just as strong.

"Up until three weeks ago, we thought he was weak," George said. "But we don't know that he's weaker now. Polls show that he's just as good."

With the party united behind him, Toomey easily won the nomination Tuesday over a weak opponent and is expected to be well-funded in the fall.

On Wednesday, Toomey held a brief rally at the Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh and called Sestak far to the left of the Democratic Party's mainstream.

"Joe Sestak has a great faith in ever-larger government," Toomey said.

Sestak has said he has no fear of Toomey, a former congressman and one-time investment banker.

"I'll put my time in the military and time in Congress fighting for working families up against his advancement of the Bush agenda and Wall Street," Sestak told a coffeehouse gathering in Harrisburg last week.

Toomey on Wednesday shot back at Democrats' attempts to tie him to his days on Wall Street, citing Sestak's vote for a 2008 bill to bail out the investment banks.

"I think it's pretty clear who's on the side of Wall Street bailouts and it's not Pat Toomey," Toomey said.

Toomey headed the anti-tax group Club for Growth from 2005 until last year and has strong ties to the business community.

While in Congress, Toomey received high marks from conservative groups. Sestak has received similarly high marks from liberal groups since he began serving a suburban Philadelphia district in 2007.

Toomey's star has risen since the 2004 Senate GOP primary, which he lost by less than 2 percent of the vote to Specter.

It was the prospect of another primary contest with Toomey that drove Specter out of the Republican Party and into a Democratic primary with Sestak that turned out to be far tougher for Specter than anyone expected.

Sestak voted for the Wall Street bailout, the health care overhaul and the economic stimulus, all bills Toomey said he would have opposed.

Toomey represented the Allentown area in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2005 and has a voting record that Sestak will attack.

For instance, Toomey supported the 2002 Iraq war authorization, then-President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts that Democrats derided as a giveaway to the rich and a 1999 banking deregulation bill. Sestak said in his campaign against Specter that those measures contributed to the national recession and deficit.


Associated Press writer Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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