Joe Sestak

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Joe Sestak
Congressman Sestak Official Congressional headshot.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 7th district
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2011
Preceded byCurt Weldon
Succeeded byPat Meehan
Personal details
Joseph Ambrose Sestak Jr.

(1951-12-12) December 12, 1951 (age 67)
Secane, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Susan Clark
Children1 daughter
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BS)
Harvard University (MPA, PhD)
WebsiteCampaign website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1974–2005
RankUS Navy O9 insignia.svg Vice Admiral
(Retired as a Rear Admiral)
CommandsDirector of Navy Operations Group
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Defense Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Navy Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit (2)
Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg Meritorious Service Medal (2)
Joint Service Commendation Medal ribbon.svg Joint Service Commendation Medal

Joseph Ambrose Sestak Jr. (born December 12, 1951) is an American politician and retired U.S. Navy officer. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011 and was the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate in 2010, losing to Republican nominee Pat Toomey. A three-star vice admiral, he was the highest-ranking military official ever elected to the United States Congress at the time of his election.[1]

Graduating second in his class at the United States Naval Academy, Sestak served in the United States Navy for over 31 years and rose to the rank of three-star admiral.[2] He served as the Director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council staff under President Bill Clinton and held a series of operational commands, including commanding the USS George Washington carrier strike group during combat operations in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean in 2002.

Sestak was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 in a heavily Republican district[3] where registered Democrats were outnumbered almost 2 to 1,[4] and reelected in 2008 by a 20% margin.[5]

He declined to run for reelection in 2010, instead running for the Senate. In the Democratic primary he defeated incumbent Senator Arlen Specter, 54% to 46%. Specter had recently switched from a Republican to a Democrat to ensure that (once Al Franken was seated) Democrats had a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority,[6] and in exchange, Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Governor Ed Rendell, promised to support Specter in 2010, in both the general election and the primary.[6] Through Rendell, Specter also had the strong support of labor, Senator Bob Casey, and almost every Democratic interest group, but Sestak surged in one month from a 21% deficit to an 8% victory.[5]

In the general election, Sestak received little help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which had spent significantly to assist Specter in the primary election.[7] Republican nominee Pat Toomey had been running unanswered ads depicting Sestak as a liberal for several months before the DSCC purchased airtime toward the end of the campaign.[7] Toomey defeated Sestak, 51% to 49%, a margin of 80,229 votes out of almost four million cast. The campaign had the second-largest funding gap of any Senate or governor race that year.[8]

Despite the funding gap, Sestak outperformed Pennsylvania's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, who lost by 9%, as well as the four Democratic Representatives who lost reelection by broad margins (Patrick Murphy by 7%, Paul Kanjorski by 9%, Kathy Dahlkemper by 11%, and Chris Carney by 10%).[5]

Sestak sought a rematch with Toomey in the 2016 election. At the beginning of the 2016 cycle, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) viewed Sestak's campaign kickoff with a walk across the state as "pointless"[9] and tried to direct Sestak's campaign manager and staff hirings.[10] Democratic leadership reportedly told Sestak to stop his walk across Pennsylvania and only fundraise.[10] The DSCC tried to recruit a half-dozen candidates to run for the seat instead,[10] eventually settling on Katie McGinty, a longtime political operative and pharmaceutical lobbyist.[11]

Sestak had led consistently in the polls, sometimes by as much as 17 points.[12] The DSCC provided over $1.5 million to McGinty's campaign when no other non-incumbent Democrat in the nation received more than $14,000.[13] In the final weeks, more than $6 million was spent by pro-McGinty Super PACs on mailings, digital ads, and TV commercials,[14] one of which was an attack ad that the Washington Post assigned its highest rating of falsity and called "a sleazy way to win a campaign."[15] Sestak lost the Democratic primary to McGinty in the closest, costliest Senate primary of the 2016 cycle.

Early life, education and early career[edit]

Sestak was born in Secane, Pennsylvania, the son of Kathleen L. and Joseph Sestak Sr.[16] His grandfather, Martin, came to America from the Slovak village of Dolné Lovčice in 1922, after World War I, while his father was sent to America in 1924 to join Martin. Sestak's father graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1942, and then fought in both the Atlantic and the Pacific during World War II, rising to the rank of captain.[17] He continued his service after the war as an engineering officer at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.[18]

Sestak attended Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where his mother worked as a math teacher.[19] Sestak was deeply inspired by his father. He has recalled the time Joseph Sr. spent five hours fixing the family car in the freezing cold of a Philadelphia winter and sent him inside after a while:

I remember going to the window and watching him. And the admiration that I had—just that strong determination of his. Never give in.[20]

Following in his father's footsteps, Sestak was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy immediately after graduating from high school, during the Vietnam War. In 1974, Sestak graduated second in his class of over 900 midshipmen, with a Bachelor of Science degree in American political systems.[21] Between tours at sea, Sestak earned a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in political economy and government from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1980 and 1984, respectively.[22]

Naval career[edit]

Sestak commanded the USS Samuel B. Roberts to the title of best surface vessel in the Atlantic Fleet in the 1993 competition for the Battenberg Cup.

As a surface warfare officer, Sestak served division officer tours as damage control assistant, combat information center officer and weapons officer on the guided missile destroyer USS Richard E. Byrd, and later as weapons officer on the guided missile destroyer USS Hoel. He then served as aide and flag lieutenant to the admiral in charge of United States Navy surface forces in the Pacific.

In January 1986, Sestak became executive officer of the guided missile frigate USS Underwood and was instrumental in the Underwood's winning the coveted battle E and the Battenberg Cup (awarded to the best ship in the Atlantic fleet). He then served in the Politico-Military Assessment Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On August 30, 1991, Sestak took command of the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, which was named the Atlantic Fleet's best surface combatant in the 1993 Battenberg Cup competition.

In July 1993, Sestak became the head of the Strategy and Concepts Branch in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. From November 1994 to March 1997, he was the Director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council staff at the White House, where he was responsible for the Clinton Administration's national security strategy, policies, programs, inter-agency and congressional coordination and regional political-military advice. In May 1997, he became the commander of Destroyer Squadron 14.[21]

Sestak then directed the CNO's Strategy and Policy Division (N51), and led the Navy's efforts toward the 2000 Quadrennial Defense Review, for which he analyzed military strategic requirements and the economic value of U.S. defense spending. After September 11th, he became the first director of the Navy Operations Group (Deep Blue), the Navy's strategic anti-terrorism unit,[23] which sought to redefine strategic, operational and budgetary policies in the Global War on Terrorism, reporting directly to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Vern Clark. In 2002 Sestak assumed command of the George Washington Aircraft Carrier Battle Group of 10 U.S. ships and 10,000 sailors, SEALs, marines, and 100 aircraft. He integrated it with a coalition of 20 allied ships and 5,000 sailors. It conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sestak became the director of the CNO's Analysis Group, again reporting directly to CNO Clark as policy adviser and administrator, where he directed independent analysis on strategy, warfare requirements, and resources for the CNO outside of the normal bureaucratic process of the Navy staff. Under Clark, Sestak worked to rein in military spending by maximizing fleet efficiency.[17] Sestak was then appointed as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs (N6/N7) in 2004 where he implemented his ideas and analyses in the Navy's Five Year Defense Plan of $350 billion to transform the Navy from a less effective, expensive platform-centric force structure to a more effective capabilities-based force posture with cyber and sensors.[24] It resulted in a ship-building plan that departed from the traditional goal for a 375-ship level to one as low as 260.[25]

Controversy over reassignment[edit]

Sestak as a vice admiral and serving as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs.

In the summer of 2005, after CNO Clark retired, Sestak was administratively removed from his position as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs (N6/N7), a three-star position.[26] His removal was one of the first changes made by Admiral Michael Mullen when he took over as the new Chief of Naval Operations in July 2005, according to Navy Times.

Sestak was reassigned as a special assistant to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and then opted to retire when his three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer.[27] Controversy ensued over his departure: it was reported that he was pushed out because he "ruffled feathers" within the Bush Administration and came into conflict with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over Sestak's advocacy for spending cuts.[18] In an investigative report by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark stated that Sestak:

"He did what I asked him to do; I wanted straight talk, and this put him in the crosshairs. People are going to say what they want to say, but [Sestak] challenged people who did not want to be challenged. The guy is courageous, a patriot's patriot.[28]

After Sestak retired from the Navy, his daughter made a recovery. He retired as a two-star admiral, not having held the rank of three-star admiral long enough to retain it in retirement.[18]

Military decorations[edit]

Sestak as a rear admiral.

Sestak's decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, two Legion of Merit awards, two Meritorious Service Medals, Joint Service Commendation Medal, three Navy Commendation Medals and the Navy Achievement Medal.[29]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

2006 election[edit]

Sestak and Senator Chris Dodd at a children's issues talk in August 2006

Sestak was the second Democrat to win in Pennsylvania's traditionally Republican 7th congressional district since the Civil War.[citation needed] The race was in the national spotlight, as it was profiled in Time magazine as the harbinger of the national political climate of the 2006 elections and the most-watched swing district in the country.[30]

In 2006, with his daughter's recovery going smoothly, Sestak was motivated to run for Congress by the benefits he received under the United States Military's TRICARE health care program, which gave his daughter the care she needed to treat her brain tumor. Sestak stated that, during his travels to find the best treatment for his daughter, he saw children who didn't have the same quality of care, or couldn't afford the necessary care. Sestak made health-care reform a pillar of his campaign in hopes of giving everyone the same care his family had. He called his congressional service a continuation of his military service, "paying back" the country that took care of his daughter.

Sestak began laying the groundwork for a Congressional run in his home district in Pennsylvania as a Democrat. He was then told he had to first receive the endorsement of the "DCCC." Sestak first thought this meant his hometown's Delaware County Community College, but he was eventually steered toward the correct DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and informed its head, Rahm Emanuel, of his candidacy.[31] Emanuel told Sestak he was not ready for the election. Pennsylvania's 7th district is heavily conservative, Republicans outnumbering Democrats 2:1. Sestak decided to run anyway and turned to his brother, Richard, and sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, who served as his campaign manager, top fundraiser and treasurer, respectively.[32] Sestak challenged ten-term Republican incumbent Curt Weldon in the race, and proved a capable fundraiser. In the second quarter of 2006, he raised $704,000 to Weldon's $692,000; in the third, $1.14 million to $912,000. As of September 30, 2006, Sestak had $1.53 million cash on hand, while Weldon had $1.12 million in the bank after making a $500,000 TV ad buy that had not started as of the close of the third quarter.[33] Sestak received campaign donations from people around the world, including performer Jimmy Buffett, John Grisham, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and many Naval officers.

A poll released in late September 2006 showed Sestak and Weldon locked in a statistical dead heat. Sestak led Weldon 44-43 among likely voters in a Franklin & Marshall College Keystone Poll released September 29. The poll also found that 49 percent of registered voters in the district felt it was time for change in the district and only 37 percent said Weldon deserved reelection.[34] The numbers suggested Sestak had seriously eroded Weldon's previous lead; a poll conducted in April 2006 by the pro-Democratic Party organization Democracy Corps had Weldon leading 51 percent to 41 percent. On October 6, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved the race from "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up." An October 8–10 survey by nonpartisan pollster Constituent Dynamics put Sestak ahead 51–44.[35] On October 13, CQPolitics moved the race from "Leans Republican" to "No Clear Favorite."[36] The race remained a dead heat until late October, when FBI special agents raided the homes of Weldon's daughter and a close friend in connection with a federal corruption probe[37] (though as of 2009 neither Weldon nor his daughter had been charged with a crime).[38] Sestak won by 13 points.

2008 election[edit]

Sestak at a campaign event in October 2008

In 2008, Sestak faced Republican nominee Wendell Craig Williams, a U.S. Marine and attorney. Sestak defeated him by a 20-point margin (59.6 percent to 40.4 percent), a full 8 points more than his 2006 margin, considered by many a landslide victory.[39] He did not purchase any advertisements, and his largest expense was lawn signs. Sestak became the second Democrat in the district's history to be reelected.[citation needed]

Legislation and key votes[edit]

Sestak wrote various pieces of bipartisan legislation that successfully passed Congress. In 2008, the National Journal identified him as "at the ideological center of the House."[40] House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer named Sestak the most productive freshman member of Congress in 2007,[41] with 19 pieces of legislation passing in the House during the 110th Congress,[42] including the Elder Abuse Victims Act, the first bill on elder abuse to pass the House in 17 years.[43] In the 111th United States Congress, Sestak's last term in office, Congress passed more bills written by Sestak than bills written by both of Pennsylvania's senators combined.

Most significantly, Sestak created the House Pediatric Cancer Caucus, which he co-chaired; extended benefits for those seeking work (COBRA) as a part of the JOBS bill; co-wrote the amendment to give small businesses tax credits, as a part of health care reform,[44] and moved the first significant federals funds into autism care and research, nicknamed the "Sestak Amendment."[45]

As Congress's senior veteran, he was an original cosponsor of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell as well as the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sestak also heavily advocated ending bailouts to banks in the Wall Street Reform Bill.[45] Sestak voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but lamented that it did not provide enough accountability measures.[46] He also voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009,[47] the American Clean Energy and Security Act,[48] and the Affordable Health Care for America Act.[49]

Some of his legislation that generated attention but eventually failed included researching potential adoption and expansion of thorium-based nuclear power,[50] and the first legislation to restrict the effects of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.[51]

Social media[edit]

In 2007, Sestak's campaign was the first federal campaign to create a Facebook Fan Page.[52] Sestak joined Twitter shortly before he was sworn in for his second term. His congressional account made him the first congressperson on Twitter to use it for an official basis.[53] After leaving office, his social networks were merged with his personal accounts, which have been verified.[54][55]

Sestak is said to have been a prime example of the Colbert Bump.[56] After appearing on "The Colbert Report" in 2008, Sestak spoke of the positive impact of social media and viral video clips of the appearance. He appeared on the show even after Democratic leaders Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi instructed Democrats not to.[57] After his first appearance,[58] Sestak won his election in a landslide in a Republican majority district, and after appearing again in 2009[59] as a part of his announcement to run against incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary, Sestak won by a surprising eight points. Sestak did not appear on the show during the 2010 general election, which he narrowly lost. The day after the loss, host Stephen Colbert lamented the loss and called Sestak a "friend" on air.[60]

Congressional staff[edit]

Sestak and his staff were recognized for their successful tenure and he was voted "The Most Productive Member of Congress."[61]

Sestak expressed pride in the constituent services his office provided the people of his district as he entered Congress just as the Great Recession began, homes were being foreclosed, and health care and other services were being denied as people lost their jobs and missed payments. During his four years in Congress from 2007 to 2011, Sestak's office handled 18,000 cases,[62] between three[63] to four[64] times the number of the average congressional office.[65] "Every person who has worked for me has been tremendous," he said. Sestak hosted an average of 15 large summit gatherings in his district each year on key issues.[66]

Some critics were quick to cite Sestak's handling of his Congressional staff as supporting "the perception that he is a taskmaster with a prickly streak." During his first term in office, Sestak employed 61 people as staff in his official congressional office, while comparable representatives employed a total of 28, 26, and 25 staff members, indicating that Sestak had a high turnover rate. The Hill reported that several former staffers said that "aides are expected to work seven days a week, including holidays, often 14 hours each day, going for months without a day off. These are very long hours even by Capitol Hill standards". A former aide added that Sestak's staff turnover was not as much of a drawback as one might expect. "Other Members rely on their staff to keep themselves informed, but with him, it's top-down," the former aide said. "He knows what he wants to accomplish, so in a sense, he just needs people to dictate to." Sestak acknowledged that his aides spend long hours on duty and that the work is "pretty demanding." He added that the staff was becoming stabler over time,[66] with the turnover rate normalizing by the end of his second term.

2008 presidential election[edit]

Sestak endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the 2008 Democratic primaries and served as her campaign national security adviser, specializing in veterans.[67] He told Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report that he trusted her leadership after serving with her in the White House.[68] In addition to being Clinton's foreign policy adviser, Sestak served as her superdelegate and was a surrogate throughout the primary, appearing in several rallies and TV appearances for her, including an ad emphasizing Clinton's foreign policy strengths.[69]

Sestak endorsed Barack Obama in the general election after Obama received the Democratic nomination.[70]

Committee assignments[edit]

2010 U.S. Senate election[edit]

Primary election[edit]

Sestak speaking at an "Employee Free Choice Act Rally" at the Pennsylvania State Democratic Convention in Pittsburgh in June 2009.
Sestak ran against Arlen Specter (right)

Whispers of a possible U.S. Senate campaign appeared in 2008 after Sestak's landslide victory and $3 million campaign surplus after his reelection. Even before Arlen Specter's announcement to switch parties, draft efforts were organized. However, once Specter switched, nationwide support mounted for a possible senatorial campaign. Most prominent was a straw poll conducted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee titled "Should a Draft Sestak movement be created to take on Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?" Nationwide, almost 8000 votes were cast with 86 percent responding yes, including 85 percent of Pennsylvanians.[71]

Sestak faced significant opposition to his candidacy from President Obama, the national Democratic Party and the state party, even though Sestak pointed out Specter's humiliation of Anita Hill during her testimony about her harassment by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas[72] and other votes of Specter's.[73] Then-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said on national television, "Joe Sestak should not run for the Senate in the Democratic primary."[74] Sestak responded, "there's no more kings, there's no more kingmakers in America,"[75] and proceeded to visit all 67 counties of Pennsylvania.

On May 27, 2009, Sestak indicated that he intended to challenge Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary (pending a final family decision because he hadn't "had the time to sit down with my eight-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in").[76] In June, he was overheard saying "[i]t would take an act of God for me to not get in now".[77] In a Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll conducted May 20–26, Specter led the Democratic primary with 50 percent, with Sestak at 21 percent and 27 percent undecided. Despite the gap, it was noted that Sestak did not have much statewide recognition at the time, as he represented only one of Pennsylvania's 19 congressional districts.[78]

On August 4, Sestak officially announced his candidacy.[79] His brother, Richard, was his campaign manager.[80] In discussing Specter's switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party, Sestak has said that the switch was "100 percent" motivated by politics.[81]

Democratic opposition[edit]

Throughout the primary election, the Obama administration and the Democratic Party campaigned heavily against Sestak, as the President, Vice President, and numerous cabinet members and Senators hosted many fundraisers and events for Specter. On September 19, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even shut down the entire United States Senate, as he, the President, and many Senators instead flew to Philadelphia to host a prominent fundraiser for Specter.[82] The event drew controversy for closing federal business and because the money raised during the event would be given to Republicans and conservative PACs that asked for refunds of contributions given before Specter's party switch.[83] Obama's presidential campaign, called "Organizing for America" during the off years, also led efforts against Sestak.[84] Even the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) decided to spend the maximum "coordinated funds" for Specter, which differ from most party spending in that the committee can use the money to work with the candidate and supplement his or her ad buys.[85]

Job offer to Sestak[edit]

In a February 2010 interview, Sestak responded affirmatively when asked if the Obama administration had offered him a "federal job"[86] if he would end his candidacy for the Senate. Sestak stated that he had quickly refused the offer.[87] When asked to give the specifics of the offer on Midweek Politics with David Pakman, he refused.[81][88][89] He continued to offer no further details until the Obama administration released White House Counsel Robert F. Bauer's official report on the incident on May 28,[90] clarifying that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel enlisted former President Bill Clinton to approach Sestak about potential, uncompensated executive branch positions on senior advisory boards and stating Bauer's official opinion that nothing inappropriate, illegal or unethical had taken place.[91] The official report also stated that Clinton had made the offer on behalf of the Obama administration. After the report's release, Sestak issued a statement essentially confirming it.[92]

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa initially alleged that such an offer and Sestak's failure to report it could be felonies.[93] Legal analysts disagreed,[94] and Issa subsequently backtracked and dismissed the issue; his spokesperson said, “it was a mistake”,[95] and Issa said, "as we discovered, that it turns out that Republicans and previous administrations thought it was OK."[96]

Primary result[edit]

Specter held a 20-point lead in polls as late as April 2010, and enjoyed support from the Democratic establishment, including Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, with the latter trying to mobilize voters in that city for Specter. A moderate Republican, Specter had switched parties after polls showed him going down to certain defeat against the more conservative Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, a rematch of the 2004 nomination contest where Specter narrowly defeated Toomey. Sestak attacked Specter's switch as "self-interested", and the move was disapproved of by a majority of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania, while a "fervent anti-incumbent mood" prevailed nationwide in the 2010 midterm elections. The Sestak campaign also ran an ad that showing Specter with President George W. Bush, which seriously damaged Specter's standing. Sestak gained momentum in the last days of the primary contest as the turnout in Philadelphia for Specter failed to meet expectations.[97][98]

At a little after 10 p.m. on May 18, the Associated Press called the primary for Sestak, 53% to 47%.[99]

General election[edit]

Many cited the Pennsylvania Senate general election as the "marquee race of 2010," a bellwether of the national stage. After securing the Democratic Party's nomination, calling it "a win for the people, over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, DC," Sestak enjoyed a slight lead in the polls against the Republican Party's candidate, former Congressman and Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. But while Sestak tried to recoup his financial losses after a long primary, Toomey had not faced a competitive primary and aired TV ads much earlier than Sestak. Toomey's effective fundraising and advertising allowed him to rise in the polls, at one point gaining a double-digit lead, causing political pundits to move the race from "Toss Up" to "Lean Republican."[100] Many stopped short of calling the race "Solid Republican" as Sestak had a reputation for campaigning until he "sees the whites of their eyes" and 11th-hour comebacks.[101]

Sestak began airing ads in mid-fall and overcame his deficit in opinion polls, closing to within the margin of error. At the beginning of election night, Sestak led in the exit polls by a large margin, but as more votes were counted and central Pennsylvania's "red T" area began reporting, Toomey caught up. Counting continued until early morning, as the numbers were too close for a winner to be declared. As the percentages stabilized, it became clear Toomey was the winner. Sestak conceded the race to a ballroom full of his supporters at the Radnor Hotel. He lost by 80,000 votes out of four million cast, a margin large enough to avoid a recount. It was the smallest losing margin of any Pennsylvania Democratic candidate in 2010.[102][103]

The total spent on the race was $20 million, the most of any federal election in 2010. After Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was decided, conservative Political Action Committees and corporations broke the record for outside spending, airing ads on Toomey's behalf and causing Sestak to be outspent 3 to 1.[104] Sestak responded to this outside spending at Philadelphia Constitution Hall, arguing, "It is we, the people. Not we, the corporations, nor we, Wall Street."[105]

Sestak returned to each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties to thank his supporters,[106][107][108] including numerous African American churches, synagogues, and mosques that had welcomed him.

2016 U.S. Senate election[edit]

After his defeat, Sestak served as a Distinguished Practice Professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College.[109] In May 2013 he was named the 2013–14 recipient of the General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership,[110] a joint initiative among the United States Army War College, Dickinson College and the Pennsylvania State University – Dickinson School of Law. Previous recipients of the Bradley Chair include former Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley and retired Major General John D. Altenburg.

This issue is, who has your back? [Toomey's] approach is, 'You're on your own.' Mine is to advance individual opportunity.

 — Sestak on why he was running again.[111]

The same month, Sestak launched an exploratory committee for a rematch with Toomey. He did not officially declare his candidacy as that would contravene the rules of his new appointment.[112] In September 2014, as he campaigned with 2014 gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf, he said that he would make an official announcement soon.[111] In November 2014, he sent out an email confirming that he would run and officially launched his campaign in March 2015 by walking 422 miles across Pennsylvania from the New Jersey to the Ohio borders.[113][114]

If Sestak had been nominated to run against Toomey in 2016 it would have been the first rematch for a United States Senate seat in Pennsylvania history.[115][116][117] But starting in early 2015 after he refused to hire a party-approved campaign manager, he faced considerable opposition from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY's List. Many establishment Democrats also resented Sestak for defeating Arlen Specter in the 2010 primary.[118][119] National Democrats including President Obama encouraged six candidates to challenge Sestak in the primary, with Katie McGinty emerging as the establishment's preferred nominee, and spent $5 million in support of McGinty's primary campaign.[120][121] Sestak's initial lead in polls dwindled and McGinty won the April 26 Democratic primary.[122][123] The national Democrats' meddling in the primary was largely unpopular with their liberal base, as Sestak consistently polled higher than McGinty in a hypothetical matchup against Toomey.[124] The Toomey campaign had also regarded Sestak as a stronger challenger since he was "a political outsider, well-attuned to the public's anti-establishment mood".[125] In the most expensive election for a U.S. Senate seat ever, Toomey narrowly defeated McGinty to win reelection.[126]

Political positions[edit]


Sestak is pro-choice, holding a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and a 0 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.[127][128] NARAL endorsed Sestak over Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary because of Sestak's opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion.[129] In 2009, Sestak's invitation to speak to students at the Catholic Malvern Preparatory School was rescinded after parents and alumni objected.[130] The cancellation was protested by many Malvern Seniors who staged a class walkout on the day of the scheduled talk.


Sestak supports requiring Congress to offset the cost of all new spending. He also supports expanding middle-class tax cuts and letting the Bush tax cuts expire. He voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Stimulus) and the Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008.[131]


Sestak voted for the Improving Head Start Act and the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.[citation needed]


Sestak voted for the Waxman Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (Cap and Trade) program.[132] He has a 96 percent lifetime rating from League of Conservation Voters and a 100 percent rating from PennEnvironment. Sestak was endorsed by the Sierra Club in his 2006 and 2008 Congressional election campaigns. He voted for the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 and the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act, and was an original cosponsor of the Climate Stewardship Act (H.R. 620) and the Safe Climate Act.[133]

Gun rights[edit]

Sestak supports gun control and has a 100 percent rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence[134] and an F rating from the National Rifle Association.[135]

Sestak has called for reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons.[136]


Sestak credits his support for health care reform as "payback" to the country that gave him and his family health care while he was in the Navy (the TRICARE program), especially for successfully treating his daughter's brain tumor.[137] He supports state-provided preventive care and voted for the CHAMP Act. Sestak originally co-sponsored the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiations Act, the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act and co-sponsored H.R. 3800, which establishes a public-private Partnership for Health Care Improvement. He also announced the Pediatric Cancer Caucus, which he will co-chair.[138] He is also a member of the Autism Caucus, Diabetes Caucus,[139] 21st Century Health Care Caucus, Congressional Mental Health Caucus, Nursing Caucus, and Cystic Fibrosis Caucus.[140]

Iran Nuclear Deal[edit]

Sestak cosigned, with 35 other retired admirals and generals, a letter endorsing the proposed 2015 Iran nuclear deal.[141]


Sestak is an original cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act and supports the original version that includes card check. He created the Labor Advisory Committee to address the challenges facing working families in his district.[142]

Medical marijuana[edit]

Sestak voted to allow states to regulate medical marijuana by voting for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008, which would have barred the Department of Justice from preventing the implementation of state laws regarding the distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana. The bill was defeated 165–262.[143]


As a candidate, Sestak campaigned to end the war in Iraq. Once in office in 2007, he supported Congressional efforts to redeploy forces but also voted for the war supplemental the House constructed after President Bush's veto, a bill many critics of the Bush administration called a "blank check" for the continuation of administration policies in the Middle East.[144] In response, Sestak and other veterans argued that they should not punish soldiers for the President's actions, and supported the bill in order to give the armed forces adequate protection and equipment.[145]

Sestak supported the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which critics contended continued the Bush administration's policy of warrantless wiretapping and provided retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who participated in the National Security Agency's "terrorist surveillance program."[146]

Sestak supported the deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan in late 2009, and military actions such as drone strikes in northwest Pakistan. He supports the gradual drawdown of troops from Iraq.[147]

Sestak was an opponent of "don't ask, don't tell", the policy that excludes gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the military, saying that the policy means "[w]e're absolutely not adhering to the ideals of our nation".[148] Sestak was instrumental in bringing to light a two-year pattern of abuse, including anti-gay hazing, that took place within a Military Working Dog unit stationed in Bahrain, sparking an investigation that turned up nearly 100 instances of abuse.[149]

Electoral history[edit]

2006 U.S. House election, 7th district of Pennsylvania
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Joe Sestak 147,347 56.4 N/A
Republican Curt Weldon (incumbent) 114,056 43.6 -15.2
Majority 33,291 12.8
Turnout 261,403
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
2008 U.S. House election, 7th district of Pennsylvania
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Joe Sestak (incumbent) 209,955[150] 59.6 +3.2
Republican Wendell Craig Williams 142,362 40.4 N/A
Majority 67,593 19.2 +6.5
Turnout 352,317
Democratic hold Swing
2010 United States Senate Democratic primary in Pennsylvania[151]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Joe Sestak 568,563 53.9
Democratic Arlen Specter (incumbent) 487,217 46.1
Total votes 1,055,780 100
United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 2010 [152]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Pat Toomey 2,028,945 51.01% -1.61%
Democratic Joe Sestak 1,948,716 48.99% +7.00%
Majority 80,229 2.02%
Total votes 3,977,661 100.0
Republican gain from Democratic Swing
2016 United States Senate Democratic primary in Pennsylvania[153]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Katie McGinty 669,774 42.50
Democratic Joe Sestak 513,221 32.57
Democratic John Fetterman 307,090 19.49
Democratic Joseph Vodvarka 85,837 5.45
Total votes 1,575,922 100.00

Nonprofit work[edit]

As of 2017, Sestak was president of FIRST Global, a nonprofit founded by Dean Kamen with the objective of promoting STEM education and careers in the developing world through Olympics-style robotics competitions.[154]

Personal life[edit]

Sestak is married to the former Susan L. Clark. In childhood their daughter Alexandra survived brain cancer.[155]


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External links[edit]


U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Curt Weldon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Pat Meehan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe Hoeffel
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Katie McGinty