Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) officially announced his Senate bid on a drizzly Wednesday morning in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall — and laced up his marching boots for the campaign.
Sestak, taking the stage clad in a Navy bomber jacket as The Proclaimers’ hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)” played, promised to march 422 miles across the state, as he looks to a rematch with Sen. Pat Toomey (R).
“While I don’t know all Pennsylvanians, I intend to walk in their shoes,” he said, hoisting his navy boots. “And I will begin today by walking in these shoes that I wore for a few days, when the war began in Afghanistan on the ground, and I will walk from here down all the way to the Vietnam Memorial, and then I will turn, and I will walk on foot 422 miles from the eastern border of Pennsylvania ... and I won’t stop until I get to the western border of Pennsylvania next to Ohio.”
The former Navy rear admiral and congressman narrowly lost to Toomey in 2010 after defeating former Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) in a Democratic primary.
That 2010 run infuriated many Democratic power players in Washington, D.C., and the Keystone State, who believe Sestak cost them a Senate seat. Some are still buzzing about a primary challenge, though it’s unclear whether one will emerge thanks to a thin bench. Potential opponents include former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D), Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D) and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D).
Other Democrats point out that he nearly beat Toomey in an awful year for Democrats, despite being outspent by a wide margin.
Some Democrats remain concerned that Sestak won’t be willing to take on help from the national party and hire top-tier talent after his contentious 2010 race; his rocky rollout is unlikely to put those worries to rest.
His speech was only taken in by a few dozen backers, many of them service men, rather than a large crowd. His campaign website was down for most of the morning as he made his announcement, and the live stream his staff planned for reporters didn’t work.
Sestak sounded out an anti-Washington theme in the speech that took aim at both parties.
“I want to ensure that we are able to overcome the challenge that we do have towards regaining our soul, and that’s that Americans, we Pennsylvanians, just don’t trust the politicians that are suppose to be our leaders in Washington,” he said. “The largest deficit we have in America today is not the debt — it’s the trust deficit, that we just don’t believe that our leaders will say something here in Pennsylvania and then do the same thing, because they don’t down in Washington, D.C., where they vote the other way.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was notably silent about Sestak’s entrance into the race, not putting out a statement on him like they had for other candidates who’ve jumped in.
Republicans, meanwhile, were quick to take aim.
“The only person calling for an encore performance from Congressman Joe Sestak in 2016 is Congressman Joe Sestak. Pennsylvania families already rejected his partisan agenda in 2010, and now, even Democrat leaders are calling for anyone-but-Sestak on the 2016 ticket,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
Updated at 8:25 p.m.