Dems pick McGinty for Senate seat
HARRISBURG — Democrats in Pennsylvania have gone with their party establishment’s choice for a U.S. Senate candidate and rejected an ex-congressman who six years ago nearly won the office.
Katie McGinty, a former state and federal environmental policy official who got millions in dollars from the party to run her campaign, received the endorsements of top Democrats from President Barack Obama on down. She defeated second-time candidate Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral the party didn’t consider a team player. Two other candidates finished far behind in Tuesday’s voting.
McGinty will challenge Republican incumbent Pat Toomey in the November election. Toomey was unopposed for the Republican nomination.
This is McGinty’s second run for statewide office. She finished last in a four-way gubernatorial primary in 2014.
The fall contest could tilt control of the Senate.
McGinty outspent Sestak 2-1 in the late stages of the campaign thanks to millions of dollars in support from the party and from Washington-based Emily’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights.
She was a member of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration when party leaders recruited her last summer and has close ties to many top Democrats. She had worked for Al Gore, Bill Clinton and former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Sestak, seeking to reinforce his image as a shoe-leather campaigner, walked across the state last year after he formally announced his second candidacy for Senate.
While spurned by the party hierarchy, he was a regular on the local party event circuit around Pennsylvania, and he earned loyalty from rank-and-file activists.
In 2010, Sestak earned the enmity of party leaders by running in the primary and beating party-endorsed candidate Arlen Specter after the longtime Republican U.S. senator switched his registration.
Party leaders complained that Sestak had lost a winnable seat.
His supporters said he earned another chance to run after doing so well in a strong Republican election year without party leaders’ support.
This year, they were determined again to find a candidate to their liking.
As McGinty leaned heavily on Obama’s support in her campaign ads, Sestak bashed party leaders. He said he was in a fight “for the soul of the Democratic Party.”
The other candidates included John Fetterman, the third-term mayor of Braddock, an impoverished steel town 10 miles outside Pittsburgh. At 6-foot-8, scowling, bald and tattooed, Fetterman touted himself as the most progressive candidate and ran an unconventional campaign, greeting voters in bars, rock music venues and hookah lounges.
Little-known candidate Joe Vodvarka, a semiretired owner of a Pittsburgh-area spring manufacturing shop, had been tossed from the ballot but added back on late in the campaign.
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