It was the middle of last week when I heard the buzz from a prominent Philadelphia Democrat.
“I hear Joe Sestak has changed his registration and is going to run (for governor ) from western Pennsylvania,” he said.
We were talking about former Delaware County Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, who waged a spirited but losing U.S. Senate campaign in 2010 and is widely seen as a potential candidate for governor next year.
Sestak is teaching a couple of days a week at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh these days.
And since the very crowded field of Democrats challenging Gov. Tom Corbett next year are from the eastern half of the state, the word is that Sestak might switch his voter registration west and get an overnight geographic edge in the primary to go with his name recognition and fundraising capacity.
Not so fast
It’s hard to imagine voters in western Pennsylvania wouldn’t see through this gambit and resent it, and when I emailed Sestak about the notion, I got the following response through spokesman Edwin Wee:
“I live in Edgmont here in Delaware County where I grew up and 5 of my sisters and my brother and Mom still live. While I have been spending about two days a week in SouthWest PA for some time teaching at Carnegie Mellon, I am a “DELCO boy” through and through…and am even teaching several courses right here at Cheyney University!”
Muhlenberg College political analyst Christopher Borick told me it would be a real stretch for Sestak to try and run as a western Pennsylvanian.
“He represented an eastern Pennsylvania congressional district,” Borick said. “That’s where he established his home base. it would be a real hard to sell to say that he’s the western Pennsylvania candidate.”
When pressed, Wee wouldn’t rule out the idea that Sestak would move west, but that’s consistent with the former admiral’s practice of keeping his options open. He kept supporters wondering until very late in the game last year whether he would run for his old congressional seat, and he’s now sending mixed signals about his future political plans.
Update: Wee wrote back Tuesday with this: “…sorry I wasn’t clearer yesterday! Admiral Sestak loves it in Delaware County and is not moving out west, and certainly not changing his registration.”
As Keegan Gibson of PoliticsPa has reported, Sestak raised more than $400,000 in the first quarter of 2013, and he did it in a federally registered committee, in contributions within federal limits. That means he can used those funds for a Senate run or a run for governor, where there are no campaign contribution limits here in the wide-open Keystone State.
I took a quick look at the contributors of that cash, and it seemed about two-thirds were from eastern Pennsylvania, but plenty were from around the country — lots of checks from New York and California. It’s a reminder that Sestak has a national fundraising base and could be a big dog in the governor’s race if he chooses to be.
As Jon Geeting writes on the liberal website Keystone Politics, plenty of Pennsylvania Democrats would welcome a Sestak run for governor, but want him to make up his mind and signal his intentions soon. Geeting notes that potential candidates for Sestak’s old congressional district, for example, would like to know whether it’s worth their time raising money and building an organization.
Meanwhile, in Harrisburg
I also checked in with John Brabender, the veteran Republican media guru who did Corbett’s campaign commercials. He’s no doubt having a fine time watching a field of Democrats getting ready to rip each other apart before taking on his well-funded candidate in the 2014 general election.
I asked Brabender if the number of prominent Democrats lining up to take on his man is the surest indication that Corbett is the most vulnerable Pennsylvania governor to seek re-election in decades.
Brabender said Corbett faced a fiscal crisis and had to make some tough decisions about taxes and spending, decisions that will look better to voters come election time.
“People see the hard part of the decisions early on in the administration, and then all of a sudden they start to see that there are some benefits to those,” Brabender said.
An example, he said, is taxing drilling in the Marcellus Shale. He said Corbett decided not to enact taxes that might “kill the industry,” resulting in thousands of good-paying jobs that should last for generations to come.
Plenty of Democrats are happy to engage in that debate, or course. But Brabender seemed to relish the prospect of taking on any of the Democrats vying to take on Corbett.
“If you go right down the line, they are generally very liberal, leading Democrats who are big-government, big-spending, raise-taxes-and-take-more-money-out-of-the-pockets-of-hardworking-Pennsylvanians,” he said.