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Months in, Sestak still without a campaign manager

Months in, Sestak still without a campaign manager

Less than five months before primary voters go to the polls, there are few 2010 hopefuls who have yet to hire a campaign manager.

But in Pennsylvania’s highest-profile primary, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-7) stands as an exception. Five months after formally declaring his challenge to Senator Arlen Specter, Sestak has yet to hire a campaign manager. The second-term congressman has always run campaigns with something of a different style, but as he takes on the different beast of a statewide race, political observers have been curious to see how he adapts.

In an interview Wednesday, spokesman Jonathon Dworkin played down the lack of a campaign manager, saying one would be brought on when the time is right.

“The congressman is very comfortable with the way things have been going on the campaign right now,” Dworkin said. “He hasn’t spent a lot of time actively looking for someone, and he’s happy with the leadership team in place right now. … When the time is right to bring someone on that we’ll do so.”

“This is a different kind of campaign,” he added. “We’ve known that from the beginning.”

Sestak is currently enjoying another round of local publicity as he travels the state on what his campaign is billing a “kitchen-call” tour, and the fact that he has yet to hire a campaign chief may mean little. But many party insiders agree that an experienced statewide manager will be needed sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the campaign is run primarily by three people. His brother Richard, who has managed Sestak’s past campaigns, is the campaign director. Rich Culbert, who worked on Sestak’s 2006 campaign and has also worked for Mark Warner in Virginia, is the political director. And Dworkin is handling communications.

One factor that may be at play is the Democratic Party’s strong support for Specter, which could conceivably discourage operatives from working for Sestak.

“I can’t speak for anyone in particular, but certainly the fact that the establishment is supporting his opponent … is part of the dynamic, and there are certain things that come with that,” Dworkin said. “People involved with the establishment might stay away from backing us publicly.”

January 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn



comments [19] | post a comment

  1. David Diano

    Jan 6th, 2010

    I give Jonathon an A for effort, but he’s stuck with the spinning equivalent of trying to polish a turd. There is zero encouraging news here for Sestak.

    “Jonathon Dworkin played down the lack of a campaign manager, saying one would be brought on when the time is right.”
    That time was 5 months ago. :-)

    “He hasn’t spent a lot of time actively looking for someone”
    — he’s too busy running around the state and having no support and he’s running out of siblings.

    “and he’s happy with the leadership team in place right now.”
    — there is an “I” in leadershIp. The REAL “team” is his family who’s making above-scale pay. A good campaign manager would tell him to pack it in and not waste millions of dollars that are needed elsewhere.

    “People involved with the establishment might stay away from backing us publicly.”
    — I’ve got news for Jonathon, there are plenty of people publicly backing Sestak in Delco, that are just pretending to because Joe has set himself up as the “establishment” here. This is already starting to crumble, as Specter announced more ‘advisers/supporters’ that now include Delaware county. I don’t know if the county endorsement ballot is a secret ballot so Sestak can’t pressure anyone, or know who voted against him.

    “One factor that may be at play is the Democratic Party’s strong support for Specter, which could conceivably discourage operatives from working for Sestak.”
    Yes. The other is that in the community of professional campaign workers, the word-is-out on Sestak.(And it’s word that would get censored.)

    Just yesterday I was talking with the campaign manager of a different campaign. The manager told me that Sestak’s campaign had talked to a friend of his about some Field Operations position with a salary that corresponded to $22,000 per year.

    The EVEN BETTER story was about Sestak congressional office handling constituent requests. He told me that he had contacted Sestak’s office on an issue, gave his information to a staffer, and then several weeks when by without contact. So, he contacted them again, and found out that his original staffer had quit. So, he gave the issue to staffer #2.
    Again, several weeks go by without a response. So, he called again. Staffer #2 had quit and now he was onto staffer #3.
    My question is: When this happens, does Sestak count this as ONE or THREE toward his 10,000 constituent requests handled??

  2. flynnbw

    Jan 6th, 2010

    Gee whiz, how did I know that David Diano would be the first commenter on this particular story????

  3. David Diano

    Jan 6th, 2010

    I figured that everybody just waits for my post, so they attack me. :-)

    Besides, I got two new Sestak stories from a political guy that I just met. At this point, all I have to do is say: “What do you think of Sestak?”

    BTW, this person actually thought Sestak could beat Specter (well, he did at the beginning of our conversation).

  4. Lee Levan

    Jan 6th, 2010

    It’s disappointing to me because I support Sestak over Specter; but it almost seems as if Sestak already has peaked. If he’s got anything left, now, not tomorrow, is the time to bring it. If he doesn’t show it soon, we’ll know that he’s not ready for prime time.

  5. David Diano

    Jan 6th, 2010

    I feel bad for you, since I know you genuinely thought Sestak was the “real deal”. However, the silver lining in this for you can be that it’s better you found out now, rather than after Sestak loses against Toomey because he had no infrastructure.

    I hope that people like you can convince Sestak to give back the money in his warchest so it can be used for other candidates. Not only will the $3 million original raised to hold the 7th-CD be needed, but with there being a dozen Senate seats at risk (and some open GOP seats ripe for a Dem pick-up) this money could be used elsewhere to hold congress.
    The DCCC itself has only $4 million cash on hand. What is the MAX Sestak can give to them? How about to the state party so we can hold the legislature and the governorship?

    If Sestak wants to display the honor he claims to have, he should spend just 50% of the time he was planning for his own campaign after the Primary working for PA candidates on the November Ballot instead. He worked his @ss off for Hillary, traveling all over the country, so he can do it HERE for PA Dems.

    If Sestak was actually will to help PA Dems for the good of the party, then he would be ready for “prime-time”, because he would have earned it doing the right thing.

    Joe talks about changing the game by getting better elected officials. He should actually seek some out and help them. (There are plenty in his own district that he’s been dismissing for years.)


    Jan 7th, 2010

    Lee –

    You said “If he’s got anything left, now, not tomorrow, is the time to bring it. If he doesn’t show it soon, we’ll know that he’s not ready for prime time.”

    My friend sais Kitchen call at Westmoreland was a flop today as only 20 people were there. Sestak invites people to join him at the American Coffee Shop for Kitchen Call, advertised it, and he couldnt even buy the 20 folks that turned out in the cold weather a coffee or a juice apparently. The guy that was sitting with my friend bought two of his own. What would this have costed Sestak, a measley 30 bucks?

    Who invites someone to a Kitchen call asking for support and cant even get someone a juice or cup of coffee?

    The question is who is the brain trust here as a campaign manager? Clearly no one who knows what they are doing. Or they dont care. Or a combination of both. Folks wanted a cup of coffee… but instead all they got was a cold “cup of Joe” who talked about steering the ship, but is clearly running the campaign aground.

  7. David Diano

    Jan 7th, 2010


    Sestak’s got something like $5 million cash in the bank. This “Kitchen Call” event was even after the end of the 2009 FEC reporting quarter, so it’s not like it would show up in the next report. :-)

    How much money did Sestak spend promoting the event and getting out there, only to blow it for the price of a few cups of coffee? This may go down as Sestak’s dumbest campaign move yet, and that’s a tough list to top.

    Only 20 people. Sad as that sounds, that’s probably a good crowd for Sestak these days for these corny gimmicks.

    I bet the Specter gets the Westmoreland Dem committee endorsement.

  8. DaveB

    Jan 7th, 2010

    Sestak is serving his purpose – to drag Specter ever further to the left. It will be fun to watch Specter try to claw his way back to the center after the Primary, demonstrating to all that he has no principles or core beliefs.

  9. Lee Levan

    Jan 7th, 2010

    Thanks David. I haven’t given up yet, but obviously am discouraged by what I have not seen from Sestak. He may be the better person for the office; but he’s surely not shown that he’s a campaigner anywhere near equal to Specter.


    I doubt that Sestak would have given up his congressional seat merely for the purpose of moving Specter to the left, although that appears to have been one effect of Seestak’s candidacy.

  10. [...] I started to wonder if old Joe Sestak finally realized he was far too left-wing for Pennsylvania. Then I realized that he probably never saw the memo to sign up for McCarthy’s brief since he is campaigning full-time (literally). [...]

  11. Lana

    Jan 7th, 2010

    I still can’t forgive Specter for many things he did as a republican but I will support Specter over Joe the carpetbagger and will encourage others to do the same.

    I am from the 7th CD and there is no way I could support Sestak, nor will I. I am very hopefull that Bryan Lentz will be his replacement and the 7th CD will finally have a real Democratic rep and the war-mongger can just fade away into nothingless where he belongs.
    I do know of 3 great campaign managers that have turned him down to run his campaign. One from Mass, one from NY and one from DC. After all they can see a sinking ship and want nothing to do with the campaign.
    I talk to Democrats all over the state and not one in impressed with the little admiral Joe. To be honest he may win Delaware county and Montgomery but the is 67 counties in Pa and I believe Specter will take Philadelphia and Pittsburgh by out of sight numbers that the little admiral can’t imagine. Goodbye Joe you may have stayed too long, but maybe the republicans will have him, who knows

  12. David Diano

    Jan 7th, 2010

    Some people in the NetRoots, left-wing of the Dems always knew Sestak wasn’t the guy. They just lead him on and encouraged him, so he could push Specter to the Left for them. But, they never intended to back Sestak at the end, because they knew he can’t beat Toomey.
    Basically, Sestak has served his purpose (though he didn’t realize he was being manipulated). Sestak’s ego is so big that there is no doubt in my mind that he honestly thought he could win. The strategy appears to be: “Once they see me and hear about by 3 stars, they will drop down and pray in thanks for my arrival.” Even his ridiculous “Kitchen Call” tour is an alludes to his Naval career. He’s milked that dry.

    Even though Specter has been vigorous in his support of key Dem votes, he can still retain his ownership of the center with his approach and the moderate compromises he contributes.

    Sestak, on the other hand, has portrayed himself so far to the Left (and he really isn’t even a progressive), that he’s allowed Toomey to appear as a moderate. Though in fact, Toomey is to the Right of Santorum. Watch the Allentown healthcare debate. Sestak was correct on the facts/figures and Toomey was still able to slaughter him.

    The person that Sestak pretends to be would make a great Senator. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way after 2006, that “Campaign Joe” is very different from “Congressman Joe” on the issues. When Sestak failed to follow through on his signature campaign issue of standing up to Bush on Iraq and demanding Timetables, many of us realized that we’d been suckered.

    The questions now are:
    1) What’s going to happen to Sestak’s $5 million?
    2) How can we get that money into the hands of Dem candidates that need it?

    Seriously! That kind of money, spread around effectively, could tip a lot of races to the Dems.

  13. David Diano

    Jan 7th, 2010

    You are rocking my world. :-)

  14. Jerry Policoff

    Jan 7th, 2010

    It would be nice if we could get a real progressive one of these days. I have had several conversations with Sestak, and I have come to regard him as arrogant and dishonest. As for Specter, he may be voting and campaigning to the Left of his record, but his record remains. Caveat Emptor.

  15. dave lewis

    Jan 7th, 2010

    Lana were are you coming up with war wonger at?

    Specter voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in Oct. 2002

    On February 17, 2007, Specter was one of seven Republicans to cross party lines and vote in favor of cloture on a non-binding resolution opposing the troop “surge.” The measure failed 56-34. Joe Sestak was against it too.

    Since then:
    The surge as been working in Dec. there was no combat deaths in Iraq.

    With Boeing in the district backed by a union what do think is going to happen.

    As for Joe chances in May if you can’t hear the arms breaking to get Specter elelcted one must be deaf.

    In the end it will not look like primary at all. No choice if you like or dislike Specter.

  16. David Diano

    Jan 7th, 2010

    “arrogant and dishonest”. Yep. You met the real Sestak.

    dave lewis-
    Sestak ran as anti-war, then voted for everything Bush put in front of him to continue Iraq. Sestak wants to go further than Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan by removing timetables (of all things).
    While in the Navy, Sestak participated in these conflicts and there is not the slightest evidence that Sestak opposed them or objected to them in ANY way.

    dave, Sestak has a bad reputation in political circles all around the state. I was telling my friend today about how Sestak invited Westmoreland committee people out for a morning coffee “Kitchen Call”, then didn’t pick up the tab for the coffee. Her jaw dropped at the utter clueless stupidity.
    Nobody has to break or even twist arms to get support for Specter among the political insiders. And frankly, if it wasn’t for the likely retaliation by the Sestak lemmings in Delaware county, you’d see a lot more endorsements for Specter.
    The plan for some in Delco is to give Sestak lip service praise, but not lift a finger for him. Then feint disappointment and surprise when he loses, and try to co-op his misguided supporters to help them fight to “honor what Sestak was fighting for”.

    The only county endorsement Sestak is guaranteed to win is Delaware. He might get Lehigh. Specter will get more than 60 of the 67 counties.

  17. Connie

    Jan 9th, 2010

    Dave Diano,
    Why don’t you get a real life? Do you really have NOTHING to do but try to smear Congressman Sestak continually?
    Also, anyone who calls Joe Sestak “dishonest” or a “war monger” certainly does not know Joe. Running against Specter & the big bucks & endorsements of the party, would be a real challenge for anyone but never discount Joe Sestak! The people of Pa. will be blessed to have Joe as our senator!

  18. David Diano

    Jan 9th, 2010

    I consider Sestak more of a pro-military Hawk, rather than an actual war monger. He doesn’t call for war, just supports continuing whatever war we are in.
    As for “dishonest”, that’s the kind way of putting it.

    “Blessed”. Ha! I guess you are part of Joe’s strategy that voters will fall down to their knees praying in thanks for his arrival.

    Sestak’s campaign is collapsing. It’s more than the “big endorsements”. Sestak has a terrible reputation among local legislators, their staffs, and professional campaign staffers (not to mention Hill staffers). Outside of the drones and lemmings in Delco that don’t know any better, Joe is not well liked (and quite the opposite in many cases).

    His failure to find a campaign manager is related to no one of quality willing to work for him and put up with his abuse and “cult” setup (and for below average salary).

    His campaign itself is all negative, despite his promises to run “for something” in a positive way. Negative campaigning can work, but it has to better delivered and better connected to reality. Sestak’s trying to lay blame on Specter for the economy, and it doesn’t pass the smell test. If Specter was the chairman of a key banking committee that authored bad legislation, Sestak might get some traction, but that isn’t the case. Also, Sestak’s delivery of attacks is poorly executed, come off as phony and stiff, and is turning off voters the more they see him.

    As I said months ago, if Specter makes good Dem votes he will be accepted as a Dem. Specter’s approval rating among Dems is now around 70%.

    Sestak’s reliance on uncompromising loyalty (over competence) has isolated him in political circles with a bunker-style mentality similar to Bush and his inner-circle of non-dissenters.

    Sestak’s failure to engage in local Delco Dem politics in a constructive way and to use his resources to build the party has not won him friends locally. His draining of resources actually caused damage.
    True or not, the consensus opinion among the Delco Dems I meet is that Sestak has zero respect for the local party or the candidates. It’s as though he deems them too “weak” to deserve his support, or fears being dragged down with them.

    Sestak totally misses the point that HE was a long shot candidate in 2006 and these people busted their @sses for him on faith, despite him being a first-time candidate. Sestak has not grasped the need to return that faith to our long shot candidates, so he has withheld vital support.

    Sestak’s experiment to bring his “military style” to civilian politics (staffers) has been an unmitigated disaster that has driven away top talent and earned him a poor reputation on the Hill.

    I think Sestak would be a bigger disaster as a Senator, but more importantly, I think Toomey would crush him in the election, due to Joe’s poor campaign style and lack of infrastructure. His operation in the 7th district doesn’t scale to the state level. As it is, his congressional operations, especially his 2006 victory, have been horribly inefficient and disorganized. In 2006, he won by marshaling overwhelming force (and making everybody do twice as much work to counteract the chaos).

    Connie, enjoy the Sestak Kool-aid while it lasts. Sestak is being rejected by the voters for Senate.

  19. Notsure

    Jun 15th, 2010

    You sure have a lot of insight for someone who hasn’t got the guts to run for office yourself( asking your mom for advice in the basement on the intercom doesn’t count).
    As to the DelcoDems who did you support,I am sure they are grateful for all the votes in the committee you shrieked off.

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