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The 2010 nominee Joe Sestak is running whether the state Democratic establishment likes it or not.
The 2010 battle between freshman Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak was a close one, with Toomey prevailing only 51-49. Pennsylvania is a light blue state, which makes Toomey a top Democratic target, and Sestak has spent the last few years preparing to run again. But while Sestak came very close to winning in the face of a massive GOP wave, the Pennsylvania Democratic establishment is horrified at the prospect that he'll be their nominee again.
From the moment he entered the House in 2007, Sestak developed a reputation as a man with a nasty temper who was almost impossible to work for, and he churned through staff at an alarming rate. (This was nothing new, though: The Navy had demoted Sestak in 2005, citing the "poor command climate" he'd fostered.)
Unsurprisingly, Sestak and the state party have had a toxic relationship since 2010, when Sestak defeated party-switching incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary. While Sestak almost managed to prevail in the general election, plenty of Democratic power players feel that Sestak ran a disorganized race that cost them a win. Sestak has been criticized for stocking his campaign with family members who had little experience, and for refusing to coordinate with the state party.
Sestak has shown no sign of changing this time around. He didn't inform the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when he kicked off his comeback bid, and his new team is inexperienced—by design, believe it or not. Sestak's allies, and even his enemies, acknowledge that his unconventional style can be an asset. Still, the state Democratic establishment very much wants someone else to be their standard-bearer, and they've been searching for that someone to challenge him in the primary.
Head over the fold to find out who the party's other options are.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro has been a rising star for some time, and he was the first choice of many anti-Sestak Democrats. But Shapiro hasn't shown much interest in a Senate race, and his supporters aren't optimistic that he'll change his mind. Shapiro's hasn't ruled out anything and his name is still nominally in contention, but it looks unlikely that he'll be on the ballot.
A few other Democrats have shown much more excitement, though no one's committed to anything. State Sen. Vincent Hughes is close to labor and has signaled that he'd run as a progressive in the mold of Elizabeth Warren. Hughes is African American and would have a natural constituency to rely on in a primary against Sestak; he's also very senior in the Democratic caucus, so he should be able to raise money. However, Hughes may be more keen on the 2nd Congressional District, which could become vacant if Rep. Chaka Fattah succumbs to a federal corruption investigation.
Another prominent African American from Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams, is also talking about a run. Rep. Bob Brady, the powerful chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, is touting Williams, which could help him clear the field if he runs. Williams is well-known in this voter-rich area, though his reputation as a centrist could cause him problems in a primary.
Former Rep. Chris Carney has also been assessing the race, though he'd be a longshot. Carney, a Blue Dog, had a very conservative record in the House that probably wouldn't play well with primary voters. Carney also hails from a Republican area, so not too many Democratic voters know who he is. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has met with the DSCC, though he hasn't said anything about his plans. Pawlowski briefly ran for governor in 2014 but dropped out after his campaign never went anywhere, so he might not be the strongest alternative to Sestak. U.S. Attorney David Hickton has also been mentioned, but he's shown no sign that he wants the job.
If none of these politicians jumped in, state Democrats would almost certainly keep looking for a recruit, but there aren't any obvious fallback options. It's quite possible that we'll have a very competitive primary next year, but it's also possible that Sestak will win by default. But no matter how much they might resent him, establishment Democrats will have no choice but to help Sestak if he's the nominee, because the party simply has to compete in Pennsylvania if it's to have any chance at taking back the Senate in 2016. We'll be watching every development at Daily Kos Elections.
For all of our posts in the Daily Kos Great Mentioner series, click here.