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Sestak seen as most likely to run against Specter in primary

Sestak seen as most likely to run against Specter in primary

With the Democratic Party seemingly lining up behind Senator Arlen Specter at the state and national levels, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7) has emerged as the most likely candidate to buck party leaders and run against Specter, party insiders and political analysts say.

While Democrats across the state were issuing statements in support of Specter’s decision to switch parties Tuesday, Sestak was far more critical. He joined Republicans in lambasting Specter for political opportunism, and would not rule out a campaign of his own. His political profile, his large campaign war chest and his relative lack of ties to the state’s Democratic apparatus have made him the odds-on favorite to run.

“Sestak can run to the left [of Specter] because he has military credentials,” a House Democratic staffer said of the retired Navy Vice-Admiral.

The staffer added: “There’s a lot of Democrats that are angry that [Specter will] be the Democratic nominee, especially since he admitted it was such a political calculation. I think there will be a Democratic primary.”

With Gov. Ed Rendell reportedly asking protégé Joe Torsella to clear the field for Specter—a request Torsella has thus far rebuffed—some party insiders privately say that it’s only a matter of time before Sestak drops talk of the contest. But Sestak said repeatedly yesterday that he was still considering the race. His campaign manager and brother Richard Sestak did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday morning.

Larry Ceisler, a longtime Democratic political consultant who has been supportive of Specter, said it would be hard even for a politician as powerful as Rendell to clear the primary field.

“Democrats certainly do not have the discipline that Republicans have,” Ceisler said. “They couldn’t even clear it for Bob Casey [in 2006]“.

Sestak has never been a darling of the party. Considered more of a centrist Democrat, some party rank-and-file had been moving behind Democrat Bryan Lentz for the seat in 2006 before the party eventually backed Sestak. Lentz is now a state Representative, and is hoping for another shot at the Congressional seat if Sestak runs for Senate.

“A guy like Joe Sestak who’s … certainly not part of the Democratic political establishment in this state, I could certainly see him running,” Ceisler said.

A Democratic insider from Sestak’s Delaware County district agreed that Sestak wouldn’t be afraid to defy the party.

“I don’t think Sestak’s a normal politician in that regard,” he said.

But in the end, the prospect of going up against both President Obama and Rendell may be too daunting. Most analysts believe it would be a losing race.

“If the governor is supportive of Senator Specter as the Democratic nominee,” longtime Democratic political consultant David Dunphy said, “I think it makes it very hard for anyone else to raise the kind of money they’d need to run a truly competitive primary.”

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.—Richard Sestak e-mailed to reiterate Congressman Sestak’s earlier statement, writing:

“My brother, Congressman Joe Sestak, stands by his previously issued statement: ‘I am the 7th District Representative, and that is the focus of my attention. Beyond that, I have made no decision about my future.’”

UPDATE 3:10 p.m.—A Torsella campaign spokesman denies reports that Rendell has asked Torsella not to run. See story.

April 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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comments [22] | post a comment

  1. [...] Sestak seen as most likely to run against Specter in primary… [...]

  2. Guy

    Apr 29th, 2009

    How is this breaking news if you have reported all of this already? The opinions of Larry Ceisler, an unnamed House staffer and a “Democratic insider,” can hardly be classified as “breaking news.”

  3. Brian Kline

    Apr 29th, 2009

    Although seemingly embraced by the state and national Dem leadership, Specter still must face the rank-and-file Dem voters. Although his favorable ratings have always been high among Dems, especially those in the southeast. A local case study does somewhat exist of a prominent moderate Republican switching to Democrat to run for office. In the 2006 8th CD primary, ex-Bucks County Commisioner Andy Warren faced Patrick Murphy in the Dem primary – who was endorsed by the Bucks County Dem Cmte. Throughout the campaign Warren faced accusations of political opportunism and in the end it was too much for Democrats to vote for an ex-GOPer. Although I think the dynamics are different and we’ll learn more when the first Specter-Sestak matchup poll appears.

  4. David Diano

    Apr 29th, 2009

    When Joe ran in 2006, there were lots of house parties and fundraisers for him, as well as donations from local committees.

    At a Dem event in 2007, I asked Richard if Joe would help the county Dems and host any fundraisers for our 2007 races. Richard’s response:

    “Why should he? It’s not his contest. No one here did anything for him.”

    Everybody of any substance in the Delco Dems knows that story. There are a few birds of the same feather that might back Sestak in a pay-to-play endorsement, but little genuine support.

    The fact that he is still playing pussy-foot rather than declaring his intentions outright shows how politically weak he is, despite $3.5 million in the back.

    Specter’s KEY senate vote trumps Sestak’s irrelevant house vote. Sestak stood with Hillary when she declared that McCain was more ready to lead than Obama.

    As for being a party outsider, in Delco there are 3 parties: Republicans, Democrats and the Sestak party. Sestak tried to build his own parallel organization and circumvent/marginalize the real party infrastructure. This has now blown up in his face.

  5. The "Real" Party Structure

    Apr 29th, 2009

    A “Real party infrastructure?” If the Delco Dems are anything, they are not an infrastructure. In fact, the only thing unifying the municipal committees and voters IS Sestak.

    He has his own structure, its still there. Its not gone. It hasn’t failed.

    What HAS failed is party leadership for Democrats in Delaware County. Its been this way for over 100 years, and hasn’t changed since this longtime resident (over 30 years) has been here.

    They wrote a book. The leadership never read it.

  6. The "Real" Party Structure

    Apr 29th, 2009

    Just a quick note. He actually has his campaign office still open. Where are the Delco Dems? OH right, they’re only open on weekends…tsk tsk tsk.

  7. Gail

    Apr 29th, 2009


    I am a member of the Delco Dems and volunteered my time on both of Joe’s campaigns; Hillary’s primary campaign; Obama’s general election campaign and Kevin Lee’s campaign. You are wrong.

    Joe did numerous fundraisers ( I heard him say over 30 events) for our local Dem candidates; contributed money to all the Dem candidates’ campaigns, had his campaign team and volunteers promoting ALL Dem candidates and carrying their literature; and had over 2,000 volunteers manning the polls on election day for the entire Dem ticket.

    Your comment about Richard, does not sound like him. Richard is a ball of energy, quick with a smile and always gracious. I’d see him at Clinton headquarters during the primary, and often at Obama’s during the general, always offering assistance. Abbey and him got along great :)


  8. David Diano

    Apr 29th, 2009

    My comment about Richard was a DIRECT quote (with witnesses).
    It was in Sept 2007 at the Pechin Awards Breakfast minutes after Joe finished a speech praising the Delco Dems for all their hard work. You see, that the point. Joe’s public face is just that: face. Unfortunately, Joe’s actions speak louder than words. As for events, sure, Joe will show up, but I’m talking about HOSTING an event where HE invites donors and fundraises for other candidates. Joe should be raising $100,000 to $200,000 for the Democratic party in his district. They shouldn’t have to scrounge around for money when it comes time to print ballots.
    As for keeping the headquarters open, we’d have a full-time executive director if Joe had bothered to honor his commitment to raise money to fund such a position.
    Thursday is the annual Delco Dems FDR-JFK fundraiser. Last year, Sestak’s campaign was over two months late paying for their table, then they back-dated the payment on their FEC report. If if was up to me, they wouldn’t get in the door without paying up front.

    As for the “real party”…
    The real work of getting people on the ballot, checking petition signatures, tracking down and recruiting election judges, dealing with the state committee and legal minutia, stuffing precinct kits, getting street lists, (and more) is ALL done by the party infrastructure. And Sestak and his band of sycophants are never around for any real work that does not directly benefit Joe. He doesn’t share volunteer lists, so we could actually put his supporters to good use in local elections.

    Joe’s kept his campaign office open so he could help Hillary in 2007 and continue to raise money for this aborted Senate run. Sestak’s structure has “failed” in that by refusing to cooperate with the people and party that gave him his start, he has earned a reputation that will NOT earn him the endorsements he needs NOR the infrastructure that no Dem can win without. Are the unions and the Philly ward leaders going to go with non-party, non-Rendell, non-Obama Sestak or with their own party infrastructure? Get real.

    The Delco Dems have not only made tremendous strides over recent years, but we actually got a HIGHER percentage vote in county council pre-Sestak 2005 than in post-Sestak 2007. Joe was 0 for 3 getting us a seat on council.

    In 2009, Joe has one last chance to redeem himself. He already has enough money to win reelection. He should not raise another dime for his own campaign and devote ALL his fundraising ability and effort to raising money for county council and all the various borough and school board races, as well as lay a solid financial groundwork for the state legislative candidates in 2010. This would be the sign of a REAL Democrat who values his party and wants to secure its future by using his abilities to provide them the means to carry out our goals.

    Plenty of people think Joe walks on water and craps rainbows.
    Joe’s like the wonderful Wizard of Oz (as long as you don’t look behind the curtain).

  9. David Diano

    Apr 29th, 2009

    BTW, while I’m 99% sure who Gail is, The “Real” Party Structure would be more impressive using his/her real name.
    I’m a Delco Dem who provides background support and assistance to candidates and committees inside and outside my county. There is political risk in saying publicly what so many of my friends say privately, but I’m not looking for a job from Sestak. I’m happy to burn any bridge that leads to his brand of local politics, so I don’t have to worry about crossing it.
    Specter is an unprincipled tool, but he’s got nowhere else to go, and this is is last term. Sestak, on the other hand, has already demonstrated that he can’t be trusted with a six year stretch between elections and being accountable to the voters and his party.

  10. Guy

    Apr 30th, 2009


    I’m not the biggest Sestak fan, but I would support him over Specter. It seems to me that you would want him to run. That way, you get a new Congressman.

    Sestak needs to run a campaign like this:

  11. David Diano

    Apr 30th, 2009

    I want him to run and lose so he can hop on his little boat and sail back to Virginia.

    Despite running as a progressive Dem, Sestak’s voting record puts him in the bottom third in progressive rankings. That’s when he is trying to represent a relatively progressive district.

    If Sestak had to pander to the PA conservatives, he’d wind up being another Chris Carney. This is Specter’s last term, and by the time he’s out, PA will be even bluer and we can elect a solid progressive liberal for a change. If Sestak gets in the Senate, we’ll be stuck with him for a long time.

    Pennsylvania voters are already well aware of Specter. The GOP just looks foolish and clueless with this type of portrayal. Sestak could try it, but even a $1 billion dollars would not be enough advertising to alter the perception of Specter. Sestak has his own skeletons and votes:
    1) Voted to give Bush a blank check (no timetables) TWICE
    2) Voted to fund Cheney’s executive office
    3) Voted for warrantless wiretaps.
    4) Voted for telecom immunity.

    But most of all, the party insiders know that Sestak doesn’t do much for the party, but rather for himself. He’s a well know hothead that is abusive to his staff. He still acts like he’s “The Admiral” and his orders and whims are not to be questioned. Most of the people I’m friends with are happy to let him swing in the wind. There are others that don’t like him, but will give hollow support in hopes of something in return. The voters haven’t seen the man-behind-the-curtain, but the insiders have. He can’t buy the silence of everyone AND overcome a Rendell/Obama endorsement.

    His political future in PA is as a Congressman for a long time.

  12. timlhowe

    May 1st, 2009

    It is truly a disgrace that Obama and Casey say they’ll back Specter.

    Dems owe that formerly dead Senator walking nothing.

    Its a gift to even LET HIM run in our Primary. He was 22 points down to Toomey in the GOP primary y’know, dead as a doornail….

  13. Dan Hirschhorn

    May 1st, 2009


    Good morning fellow political junkies. This is Dan Hirschhorn, reporter, editor and publisher of

    Though I’m a little late to the game, I wanted to take this opportunity to chime in about what kind of discourse we want to encourage here at I know politics is a contact sport, and that things can get heated. I know there’s vitriol out there, and I don’t pretend to be able to control it…outside these pages.

    But on these pages, it’s important that we maintain a level of civility and respect. I’ll tolerate a very high level of attacks on elected officials—they’re in the spotlight and they’ve put themselves there.

    But let’s keep personal attacks out of it. Attack someone’s policies. Attack their actions. Attack their views.

    But don’t attack them personally. It adds nothing, and dumbs down a political culture that is already way too close to hitting rock-bottom.

    In an effort to foster this kind of discourse, I have removed some of the more personally offensive comments. I do this not to censor, but to keep things civil. I will apply the same metric to everyone in this regard.

    Thank you for commenting. Discussion is what we’re all about here. Never hesitate to contact me anytime at if you have questions, comments or concerns.

    Enjoy the weekend.


  14. timlhowe

    May 1st, 2009

    fair enough, but what about this david fellow’s personal attacks on joe ?

    why are they still up?

  15. Dan Hirschhorn

    May 1st, 2009

    Like I implied above, the bar for elected officials is higher. Congressman Sestak is an elected official. David is not.

    I have looked carefully at the comments, and determined that those are not as personal in nature as some of the things that have been said about David.

    I understand everyone won’t agree. But part of my job is to keep the discussion substantive.

    You don’t agree with what David said? Good.Disagreement is welcome.

    But attack the substance of his argument please. Don’t just resort to name-calling for someone who’s not a public official.

  16. Chris

    May 1st, 2009


    LOL ….it is so obvious you have a “man-crush” on Sestak and are envious of all his success.

    The truth finally comes out – you are part of Delaware County Democratic Party Cliff Wilson’s leadership council, cronies who do no work (Thanks “Not Dumb Dave” for pointing that out to us).

    It all makes sense now, and why you never responded to my earlier posting about why Cliff Wilson, your party chairman for over 15 years, has never raised any money for your party or ever built an infrastructure that our Chairmen Tom Judge, Charlie Sexton and John McNichol have done for our Delco Republican Party.

    There is nothing more fun than watching Dems attacking Dems, and why us Republicans remain so thankful that Cliff Wilson remains your chairman (and “Bendict Arnold” Specter is now with you)

    It is so obvious you have envy over what Sestak did in 10 months building his campaign and raising money in 2006, compared to what Wilson has never done over his 15 year tenure, and you just can’t get over it ;)

    And is that true that Sestak keeps his campaign office open and that the Delco Dem Party office is only open on weekends ? (Thanks “Real Party Structure” for that nugget). OMG ….that is so funny!! Our Rep party office is kept open all the time and staffed. Is there any wonder that we love having Wilson as your chairmen!!!!

    I’ll give Sestak his due (and why he’s the only one of you we respect) – he had to build his own organization, and is smart enough to keep it open.

    It all makes sense now- all your postings, why you post so much. You are one of Wilson’s hence-men “attempting to find fault”with Sestak, to distract attention from the failings of Wilson and the inadequacies of your local Dem Party organization

    As a candidate for office, Sestak’s responsibility – as it is for any good candidate – is to build a “dominating organization” for himself to get elected, which he did – and exactly what Obama did to win, if you noticed.

    On the other hand, the responsibility to build a “party organization” and raise money for the party and its candidates, is charged to the chairman of the party. Look no further than Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” and what RNC Chairman Michael Steele and DNC Chairmen Tim Keane do as chairmen for the respective parties.

    Locally, our Republican Party has been the dominant organization because of the efforts of Tom Judge, Charlie Sexton, and John McNichol – all unelected officials and all party chairmen. They put the time and energy and necessary resources into making our party the dominant party organization that it is . They constantly raise money for the party. They are out there all the time raising money for our local, county and state candidates.

    I can’t understand how Wilson, your chairman, has not raised the money or put the time and energy into building a “dominating organization” during his tenure. Your Delco Dem Party office does have a telephone in it? But then again, you are only open on weekends….LOL!

    You put all your gripes on Sestak, whose only been in office for 2 years (and whom you admit – in a previous posting- is a tireless worker and built a “dominating organization”) and yet its Wilson who has controlled your Delco Dem Party organization for over 15 years and whom you fail to hold accountable.

    Are you so close to the “Emperor Who Wears No Clothes” that you fail to realize that you are on a “fool’s errand” for him?

    Why is it you fail to hold Wilson accountable for your party’s lack of organizational strength? Why it is you fail to hold Wilson accountable for not having raised any funds for your party?

  17. timlhowe

    May 1st, 2009

    i find this david’a attacks on joe to be that of a resentment filled ankle biter (and to be clear, the entire substance of his argument is all about Resentment), but I do like your thoughtful responses…indeed I do.

    but – david here sure implies that he is, at minimum, a del-co dem insider, a big wheel mover and shaker, if not a guru…and so don’t those claims to be a formal/informal party official, game changing politico(he claims to personally have swung 7 races)open him to the same kind of consideration and critique (ie – nasty and personal) any office seeker must accept?

    just like the kind he has used in his personal vendetta at Joe, which has seen his personal attacks at every single post here this week about Sestak.

  18. Not Simple Dave

    May 1st, 2009

    I think simple is a much softer word. But I agree with Tim, Dave puts himself out there as if he is an on equal footing to elected officials, so he should be open to equal attacks. I may have gone too far, but nothing I said was not true, so I will try again, this time I will tone it down.

    First, if you count DelCo Dems as a ‘party’, then Dave is a party insider. But its hard to think that there is anything worthwhile coming from the DelCo Dems. They have done nothing for decades, and Tim is right, the GOP is thrilled that Dave and Cliff still are in control, since it makes it so easy for them to continue to dominate local elections. The sole reason Sestak continues to win and raise a ton of money is because he tries hard to avoid every having to rely on them for anything, since everyone in DelCo knows they couldnt elect Jesus if he ran as a D.
    Second, it is a very well known fact that Dave’s disdain for Sestak comes from the fact that he attempted to help Sestak in 2006, and after offering outdated and not very useful assistance, Sestak did not offer him something. When Sestak shunned Dave, Dave made it his mission to tank Sestak.
    Third, Dave says “I’m a Delco Dem who provides background support and assistance to candidates and committees inside and outside my county.” The fact remains, Dave’s work has been used by candidates that lose, or have lost. I guess its a bit too much to say that he lies, because he only said he helps, but the fact remains, candidate that rely on his assistance lose. And that is why the GOP loves him.

    Sestak organization is professional and successful. He has won a very moderate district twice now, by large margins. His staff is extremely knowledgeable and for two cycles in a row embarrassed the local party by being able to do in 3 years what the party hasn’t done since the days of Bob Edgar.

    In the end, Dave’s baseless attacks are never going to matter, because only the lowly and powerless DelCo Dems seem to care about his advice. The residents of the 7th, D’s R’s and I’s alike, all seem to agree that Sestak is a their man. The reason everyone is so interested in a Sestak run is because he so perfectly represents the district, and the state. I hope he runs and wins. Maybe Dave or Cliff should run in the 7th, and watch the GOP party start.

  19. timlhowe

    May 1st, 2009

    I hereby endorse every word ‘Not Simple Dave” just wrote.

    lookin’ around, Ive noticed this Dave fellow trashing Joe on all the blogs discussing this race. One time stamped his venomous comment as being posted at 3:47am…

    I wonder, just when does political commentary turn into a unhealthy personal obsession?

  20. Dan Hirschhorn

    May 1st, 2009

    People seem to have missed my comment above. PLEASE keep personal attacks out of the conversation. I really don’t want to turn off commenting on this story. It’s a vibrant conversation.

    Let’s keep it that way. And let’s keep it substantive.

  21. David Diano

    May 3rd, 2009

    The reason for the Republican fundraising advantage is simple: pure corruption.
    The Delco GOP holds all 5 seats on county council and they all vote 5-0 for years. The voter department employs no Democrats. The judges are party insiders and in some cases new districts are created to give selected judges a job. They control the budget and awarding of contracts and get massive donations. Dems requesting public information are forced to wait the maximum turn around time (weeks), but GOP insiders get the information while they wait.
    Cliff isn’t running around raising money by promising jobs and appointments. It’s a lot harder to raise money when you are bound by principle and not a pay-to-play advocate.

  22. Guy

    May 20th, 2009

    Lentz wouldn’t be as controversial. Let’s put Sestak in the Senate and Lentz in the Congress.

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