Primary polling shows Sestak leading his closest competitor, McGinty, by double-digits. General election polling shows Sestak the closest to Toomey and the only one that Toomey does not lead by double-digits. However, the Democratic Party establishment has almost completely lined up behind McGinty in her Senate run.
Last week, Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) endorsed McGinty, his former Chief of Staff and gubernatorial opponent, in an email to supporters. Of McGinty, Wolf wrote, “While Katie may have been my opponent for governor two years ago, I was still impressed by her dedication to working hard for Pennsylvania families.”
McGinty has also been endorsed by former Governor Edward Rendell (D-PA).
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took the unusual step of endorsing in an open primary and endorsed McGinty. “Katie knows how to get the job done and she will be a powerful voice for college affordability, equal pay and ending corporate tax breaks for companies shipping good U.S. jobs overseas,” executive director Tom Lopach said in a statement. In 2010, the Democratic Party lined up behind Sestak’s competitor, then-Senator Arlen Specter in a bid to save the Senator who had recently switched to the Democratic Party. The Obama White House enlisted former President Bill Clinton in an effort to try to convince Sestak to leave the race and offered him a spot on a presidential board if he dropped out. Sestak refused to and went on to defeat Specter in the primary, but narrowly lose to Toomey.
Party organizations typically remain neutral in open primaries as to not anger potential future colleagues. TKNN reached out to the DSCC repeatedly to ask why the group got involved, but there was no response.
Sestak’s campaign has one high-profile endorsement in the form of Congressman Matthew Cartwright. The Cartwright campaign did not respond to a inquiry regarding why the Representative decided to endorse Sestak. However, Cartwright did tell the Morning Call that “Joe Sestak will be a great senator.” Sestak was one of the earliest and highest-profile endorsements for Cartwright’s hard-fought primary fight against Representative Tim Holden in 2012.
Cartwright held a fundraiser for Sestak in Scranton while McGinty has been the benefactor of several, including three in Washington, D.C. The political group Emily’s List, CNN Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen, and Democratic operative Stephanie Cutter co-hosted a fundraiser for Katie McGinty and congressional candidate Kathleen Matthews in January with a suggested donation of $500 to attend. A search of Sunlight Foundation records finds four such events for McGinty and none this cycle for Sestak.
One of the other events for McGinty was hosted by Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA). Sestak is a former colleague of Doyle’s having served in the House together. Efforts to reach the Representative were unsuccessful.
McGinty also has endorsements from Senators across the country. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), whose political group, Off the Sidelines, supports female Democratic candidates, endorsed McGinty as did Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, has endorsed McGinty as well. A total of seven Senators have endorsed McGinty’s Senate run.
Dr. G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall University says that much of the support is personal. McGinty has been worked with the Clinton, Gore, Rendell, and Wolf campaigns and has cultivated these personal relationships over many years. Sestak, on the other hand, angered much of the party establishment with his 2010 Senate run. Sestak also has a reputation as a maverick.
Madonna also points out that many voters are undecided. In the latest poll from Franklin and Marshall, 46% of voters in the Democratic primary are undecided. Madonna says that with the big money behind McGinty, the airwaves will be flooded to support her. Wolf in his gubernatorial race blanketed the airwaves for roughly two weeks to introduce himself to Pennsylvania voters and skyrocketed to the lead.
When the Sestak campaign was contacted for comment, they directed TKNN to the candidate’s comments following the DSCC endorsement. He told reporters, “What most concerns me is not the DSCC endorsement. The people of Pennsylvania know that there are no more kings and there are no more kingmakers in America, anymore – there is only ‘We the People.'”
The Fetterman campaign, for its part, said in an email to TKNN, “The last seven months of her campaign have shown establishment endorsements don’t equate to campaign momentum or support from actual voters.”
Efforts to reach the McGinty campaign for comment were unsuccessful.