Pa. Senate candidates fight to a close finish

    Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are (from left)Joe Sestak

    Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are (from left)Joe Sestak

    As Pennsylvania’s race for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate comes down to the wire, candidates are mostly in friendly country, focusing on turning out supporters for what could be a close finish.

    Retired Admiral and former Congressman Joe Sestak had no public campaign schedule, but when I asked, he was easy to track down visiting African-American churches in Philadelphia. Sestak says he does this regularly. He says the churches opened their doors to him in 2010 when Democratic leaders shut him out of ward meetings because he was challenging the party’s chosen candidate for U.S. Senate, former Republican Arlen Specter.


    At the Greater Enon Missionary Baptist Church in North Philadelphia yesterday, Pastor Mike Robinson greeted him with a bear hug, and told me he and Joe go back a ways. Robinson spoke warmly of Sestak from the pulpit.

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    “He’s not a guy who just comes around at election time,” Robinson said. “I can’t tell you as a pastor who to vote for. That would be out of place, but I can say he’s a friend of mine, and he’s somebody that you really should get to know.”

    I caught Sestak outside, among the rowhouses on 22nd St., and asked how the election looked to him.I noted that his lead in the polls seems to be eroding as a national groups supporting rival Katie McGinty have spent more than $2 million on TV ads down the stretch.

    “Sure, there’s a lot money coming from the outside, but at the end of the day, people understand that the establishment has let them down,” Sestak said. “It’s why Donald Trump is so popular.”

    The West Oak Lane cruise

    I caught up with McGinty at Relish, the diner on Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane that’s a frequent gathering place for politicians in northwest Philadelphia.

    The place was thick with them. Governor Tom Wolf and his wife, Frances, were there, along with a generous sampling of elected officials, consultants, ward leaders, and committeepeople. I saw U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and state Rep. Dwight Evans, rivals for Fattah’s seat in the election, shake hands before telling me in consecutive interviews they expect to win the party’s nomination tomorrow.

    McGinty was her ebullient self, saying she feels confident but takes nothing for granted.I asked about all that outside money that’s giving her a huge edge in TV advertising in the last two weeks of the campaign. Yes, she said, there’s outside money in for more than one candidate in this race, and we should have campaign finance reform.

    “But what I’m very proud about is the people standing with me — nurses, teachers, environmentalists, and they know what’s at stake in this election,” McGinty said.

    The biggest spenders for McGinty are the national Democratic party and the feminist, pro-abortion rights group Emily’s List. They’ve spent a combined $3.2 million on the race.

    There’s also a super PAC for Sestak, which spent about $700,000 on ads for him. And there’s even a modest super PAC for Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, called 15104, named for the Braddock zip code. It’s disclosed that it’s spending over $100,000 on TV ads for Fetterman. It has not yet had to disclose its donors.Also in the race is businessman Joe Vodvarka, who got put back on the ballot just last week, courtesy of a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

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