Run Joe Sestak for Governor in 2014

(Cross-posted from Keystone Politics)

Looking at Rich Wilkins’ round-up of the 2014 field, I see a lot of people who just recently won elections this year:

Who should actually take him on though? I think the right of first refusal belongs to Senator Casey, who is the leader of our party right now. If not him, I’d be open to Kane, McCord, and Joe Sestak for sure. Allyson Schwartz would be wonderful, but I doubt she wants it. I like DePasquale a lot, but i’m not sure you jump from first term Auditor General to Governor right now, even with his time in the legislature. Any of them, if they’re smart enough to get out of the Harrisburg echo chamber in their hiring, would be great candidates.

On the “will he?” question I have to think Bob Casey’s not going to run. Casey just ran a pretty lackluster campaign for Senate, and I doubt he’d want to run two years later. Should he run? I know I don’t want him to. Casey’s got a decently progressive voting record and took some tough votes on environmental issues for us, so he deserves props for that. But tempermentally I feel like he’s too conservative. He ran a really safe campaign, the initiatives he’s sponsored in the Senate are mostly safe small-bore stuff, and it’s hard to get a sense of what he really wants to accomplish on public policy.

Say what you want about the content of Tom Corbett’s agenda, but dude arrived on the scene with a clear list of things he wanted to get done. In the Democratic primaries, I’m going to be looking for a mirror-image of Corbett – somebody who’s showing up with a meaty agenda for policy change. And not just on economics and the environment. We’ve got to play the process game like the Republicans do. Ask yourself which candidate is going to try to roll back Voter ID and pass early voting and same-day voter registration. That doesn’t sound like Bob Casey to me.

After that we’ve got Kathleen Kane and Rob McCord. I hope that Kathleen Kane will run for Governor later in her career, but not in 2014. Kane is the first Democrat to win the office since AG became an elected post in 1980. We cannot have the first Democrat to hold that office bailing two years into her term to run for Governor. That would look horrible. We need Kane to finish out her term, with a solid record that future Democratic AG candidates can point to as a template for what a progressive does with that office. Setting up the board for future Democratic AGs to win the office is arguably more important to PA Democrats’ long term political project than one Gubernatorial election.

I don’t know a ton about Rob McCord and am open to persuasion from KP readers that he’s the best choice to take on Corbett. The trouble with the Treasurer office is that, if McCord is doing politics it’s not really visible to the voters. Every day I’m trawling this Internet for PA politics content, and rarely am I reading anything about Rob McCord’s doings that the guy could get voters excited about. Again, happy to be persuaded otherwise but until I hear more about McCord’s political platform I’m underwhelmed about his prospects as a candidate.

Others have mentioned people like Josh Shapiro, Jack Wagner and Allyson Schwartz, and we’ll see about them if it starts looking like they’ll run.

The candidate I’m most enthused about is Joe Sestak. I know a lot of PA political professionals feel like they got burned by Sestak in 2010, but hear me out on this.

First of all, you can’t argue with results. Sestak was the top Democratic vote-getter in 2010. In a banner Republican year he came within two points of beating Pat Toomey. This is probably because the Democratic base voters love a winning primary challenger, and Sestak walloped Arlen Specter 54-46. If Sestak can come that close in a Republican wave year, he’s got a decent shot at knocking off a weakened Tom Corbett in 2014.

Second, you have to consider the guy’s campaigning abilities, which are formidable. There’s a big negative mark on his record in this category, which is that he foolishly did not join the coordinated Democratic campaign in 2010. If he’d bought into the coordinated campaign, he could’ve avoided some duplication of efforts in the field and maybe pulled out a win. I would like to think Sestak realizes how bad that was now, and why he can’t run as a lone wolf again.

But looking past that, there’s a reason he came as close as he did – the man is basically a campaign machine. Back during the 2010 campaign, I was reading articles about Sestak driving back and forth across the state multiple times in a day, not stopping to eat or go to the bathroom. He does not get tired. Of course for the same reasons his campaign staff got ground down, and all the anecdotes I’ve heard suggest he pushes his employees way too hard. I doubt I’ll be applying for any jobs on the Sestak campaign, but frankly that is exactly the kind of energy we need the 2014 Democratic nominee to project from the top down. If we want to retire Tom Corbett after one term, we’re going to have to bust our asses. It is not going to be easy, and we’re going to need the candidate to be pushing the activists to work harder, not the other way around.

The final reason I want to see Democrats pick Sestak is that he’s not cautious. He is the tempermental opposite of Bob Casey. That’s what we need if we’re going to try for real progressive policy change. Can you imagine Bob Casey leading a serious push for a Constitutional amendment to bring a progressive rate structure to the PA income tax? Definitely not, but can you imagine Joe Sestak going for it? Of course you can! Any “serious” political professional is going to tell you not to try that. “Not this cycle!” they’ll say. “Wait until the second term!” I want Joe Sestak as the nominee because I want the guy who is not going to listen to the cautious campaign consultant class who never want to try to do anything new. I want the guy who’s going to ignore all the sage advice and pick the stupid-hard political fights that our campaign consultant overlords never seem to want to get around to.


  1. I tend to agree about Sestak’s positives, but to play devil’s advocate: is he the strongest candidate to beat Corbett. That’s really the only standard I’m going to apply, at first, to any candidate running. Corbett is an awful Governor, and must be run from public life in 2014.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I kind of think he is. Besides Casey, who is stronger?

      • Well, though you lay out a good case against her running, Kane just won a blowout. I do think Sestak’s a fairly strong candidate, I just don’t know if he’s clearly “it” yet.

        • Corbett is very beatable, just like Obama was. Make sure you pick the right candidate.

          As I said before, I disagree with about 80% of Sestak’s politics, but he is an honorable man and I would not be ashamed of him as governor. That means alot in this day of slimy politicians. Very glad McCord isn’t in the newspaper, the last thing you want is a State Treasurer in that role. Casey and Kane won’t run for reasons cited.

          It’ll be interesting to see if the Democrats fuck it up or not.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Me neither

  2. I’ve always wondered why Auditor General Jack Wagner’s name doesn’t come up in these discussions. He’s been on my radar for a while and he’s demonstrated a consistent ability to take stock of state issues and offer sensible, non-partisan recommendations for fixing them. Wagner’s suggestions always seem to fall on deaf ears. He’s almost too pragmatic and straight-talking to fit in with the Harrisburg crowd.

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