Pa. Senate race brings attacks, super PACs

    U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty speaks with the press after a visit to the struggling E.W. Rhodes School in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty speaks with the press after a visit to the struggling E.W. Rhodes School in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Things are picking up in the campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, with attacks over Social Security and spending by outside groups to influence the race.

    Former Navy admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak came into the race with a lead in name recognition from his 2010 Senate run and his travels around the state.

    But former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty has picked up endorsements from labor and Democratic Party leaders.

    McGinty, who has trailed in the polls, has started attacking Sestak on Social Security. She went after him at a debate Tuesday night on WTAE in Pittsburgh.

    “I do disagree with Congressman Sestak,” McGinty said. “He has said that it was courage and the proper thing to do to call for the Social Security retirement age to be lifted to 69 and significantly cut benefits.”

    Sestak came right back and denied it.

    “I never, ever, advocated, in fact have gone on radio and television, that actually we should never raise ever, the age for our seniors to retire,” Sestak said.

    What’s this all about?

    McGinty was referring to Sestak’s comments in January about the Simpson-Bowles plan for reducing the national debt and dealing with Social Security and other “entitlement” programs.

    It’s a plan that McGinty’s own campaign chairman, Ed Rendell, has praised.

    According to an analysis by Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sestak didn’t actually talk about Social Security in the interview in question, but said people should look at the national commission that compiled the Simpson-Bowles proposals as a template to address the issue of entitlements.

    UPDATE: WTAE, the Pittsburgh station that hosted the debate found in a fact-checking analysis that McGinty’s attacks on Sestak on Social Security and fracking don’t reflect the record.

    Meanwhile, airwaves have been filling with ads for Sestak and McGinty, and they aren’t all coming from the candidates’ campaigns.

    The super PAC of the feminist group Emily’s List has begun its promised $1million ad campaign for McGinty with an appealing bio spot.

    Another super PAC, Accountable Leadership, is spending hundreds of thousands supporting Sestak. It’s not clear who’s funding that effort yet.

    Meanwhile Braddock, Pennsylvania, Mayor John Fetterman continues to say he’s spent 10 years fighting for progressive change on the ground.

    He has less campaign money but is producing ads, many featuring him driving through Braddock, and addressing issues such as fracking and the Citizens United court decision on campaign funding.

    Fetterman says he’ll pick up momentum and win.

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