By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 03/14/06 12:00 AM EST
Facing what could become an unexpectedly competitive bid for reelection, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) promised to unleash “the Army of Curt” against Joe Sestak, a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy and his likely opponent in the November midterm elections.
Asked about his opponent last week, Weldon told reporters, “We’ll run the most aggressive campaign in 20 years. [Just] because you have a couple of stars does not mean you should come in [to the race]. ... But I respect him.”
Sestak has built a solid campaign organization since retiring from the Navy on Jan. 1. After announcing he would run for Congress last month, he persuaded two Democrats to clear the field for him, raised $150,000 in less than a month and hired Barry Sweitzer, a well-known Democratic media consultant in Philadelphia who works for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D).
Informed of Weldon’s comments, Sestak said, “We believe voters will prefer a career naval officer to a career politician,” adding that during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan he commanded 30 ships and 15,000 sailors that were part of the George Washington Carrier Battle Group.
Weldon said he will run an aggressive campaign, which will include raising “any amount of money” and pulling together a “Democrats for Weldon” committee.
Well-known independent Republicans have told Weldon that they would help him raise money, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In addition, Weldon hired a prominent media consultant, Russell Schriefer of Stevens & Schriefer, who worked for President Bush in his reelection campaign.
However, Weldon faces a host of problems as he seeks an 11th term. In the fourth quarter of 2005, Weldon raised a rather anemic $85,350 and spent $100,000. He has $266,102 on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission.
He has attracted headlines for his role in helping his daughter win lucrative lobbying contracts.
A Weldon campaign official dismissed the conflict-of-interest allegations, arguing that an article in the Los Angeles Times, which detailed his daughter’s clients and his role in helping them, included factual errors and that voters were smart enough to distinguish between innuendo and facts.
Democrats contend that Weldon has not adjusted to the realities of the district, which has trended Democratic at the national level. Weldon won handily in 2004 with 57 percent of the vote, but Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry defeated George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 in the congressman’s district.
“Curt has always been a ticket-splitter,” a campaign official said. “Democrats have based the whole case for victory on the fact that Kerry won. But Curt outpaced Bush by 15 percentage points.”
Roxana Tiron contributed to this report.