Choosing a Candidate: The PA Senate Primary

VotingBoothImage_0The first time I was in a voting booth, I was 5 years old. It was one of those machines where you pulled the lever to close the curtain, clicked down the little metal bars, and then pulled the lever to open the curtain. My dad held me and told me which metal bars to pull and then put his hand over mine and we opened the curtain together. It was so much fun, I wanted to do it again, and the next guy on line offered to take me into the booth, but my dad was having none of that. I loved voting even then.

I’ve voted a lot since then. Since coming of age, I have missed exactly one election, which was an off-year primary, missed due to a medical emergency. And I always know for whom to vote: at the local level normally I know the candidates, and they know me. But this year I am facing a huge dilemma. Who to choose? Which of them? 

The race in question is the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. The candidates are Joe Sestak, Katie McGinty and John Fetterman. None is a stranger to me. I interviewed Joe a number of years ago, have run my dog with Katie and her dogs, and spent an evening in a bar with John and a bunch of people. They are all good people. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Any of them would be a far better choice then Pat Toomey. There’s not a whole lot of daylight between their positions: each is more passionate about their favourite causes and issues, but none would likely vote against my positions.

I have been meeting with their surrogates to endeavor being “sold”. No use so far. So here’s my plan – I’m going to explain my thinking and then ask for your input. If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you may still have an opinion of whom you would choose. All help great appreciated. My most important parameter is to select the candidate with the best shot of defeating Pat.

Joe SestakJoe Sestak: Retired Navy admiral. Former Congressman, who provided some of the best constituent services ever seen in the House. But, he screwed the state party after his loss to Toomey and potentially cost us a House seat. Currently, there are 16 members of the Senate who served in the military, and not all of them served in wartime. This is a huge drop from the 1970’s when more than 70% of the House and Senate were veterans. I’m a pacifist, and I know that ex-military personnel are the least likely to go to war. They’ve seen it, and want to avoid it if at all possible. In the 2010 wave election, Sestak lost to Toomey 51-49, which means that he could repeat his campaign and likely win this time.  As of the most recent polling, he’s at 41%.

Katie McGintyKatie McGinty: Former Chair of the (Federal) Council on Environmental Quality. PA Secretary of Environmental Protection, and Tom Wolf’s Chief of Staff until she stepped down to run for the Senate. She has no legislative experience. She launched a run for the governorship a couple years ago, but was knocked out in the primary.  McGinty has the support of the entire Democratic establishment: Ed Rendell is her campaign manager, plus she’s endorsed by a host of elected officials as well as labor unions, EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters. However, this may not be the year to be an establishment candidate. On the other side, if Hillary Clinton is the presidential nominee, other women down ballot would benefit. She is currently polling at 33%.

John FettermanJohn Fetterman: Mayor of Braddock, PA for the past 10 years, John is Pennsylvania born and bred. He has the most compelling bio of any of the three candidates, and neither of the others is a slouch. John is more impressive then 99% of anyone running this year for any office in the land. Sadly, he’s unknown to more than half of all Pennsylvanians, and is polling at 9%. His positions are left of both Joe and Katie. His work as mayor has served to greatly improve Braddock, and he won his last election more than 80% of the vote.

Overall, it’s hard to know what to do. Any of the three would be a far better choice than Pat Toomey. All three participated in a debate at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit last month, and participated in a forum  at the state Democratic convention.

So as you percolate on whom to choose, consider the following. Joe Sestak was in for this race in March of 2015. One of his early endeavors was to walk across the state, and ended up going 422 miles. He spoke to people, explained what he was doing, and listened. Joe learned a lot in his 2010 race, and with the 2016 dynamics has the best chance of the three contenders to overtake Pat Toomey. So why, you may ask, did the party not get behind him? An interesting question. The establishment wing of the Democratic Party worked hard to run a candidate against him. They chose Katie McGinty. In my personal calculus, a party working against one of its own is a huge hurdle for me.

I know which way my heart is leaning, and I know which way my brain is leaning…how about you?



  1. tshumas says

    Katie McGinty might have the “support of the entire Democratic establishment,” but most of us canvassing door-to-door volunteers most definitely are not! We passionately believe Admiral Joe Sestak is the best candidate by far. The people we speak to, when walking door-to-door, all are Sestak supporters. However, what many of volunteers have discovered is that many Democratic voters are confused as to why the Democratic leaders are pushing McGinty. Many of us fear that by default many other Democratic Primary Election voters might switch their vote to McGinty strictly due to the PA-Democratic endorsement and not because they would rather select Sestak.

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