Former Congressman Pat Toomey has defeated Democrat Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, reclaiming the seat for Republicans 19 months after incumbent Arlen Specter abandoned the party.
Toomey nearly unseated Specter in a 2004 primary and looked to challenge the five-term incumbent again this year. Faced with a rematch that looked more difficult, and after a lobbying campaign led by Vice President Joe Biden, Specter decided in late April 2009 to seek reelection as a Democrat.
But Sestak, a two-term Philadelphia-area congressman and former Navy vice admiral, refused to quit the Democratic race, allegedly even turning down a job offer from the White House to do so. He defeated Specter in the May primary by nearly 8%.
A traditional battleground state, Pennsylvania had shifted bluer in recent cycles, including a strong win by the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008. Specter’s switch to the Democratic caucus in 2009 gave Democrats their brief 60-vote super-majority in the Senate.
But the economic downturn, felt keenly in the industrial state, made it fertile ground for a resurgent conservative movement. And Toomey, who after his 2004 primary loss headed the fiscally conservative Club for Growth political organization, easily tapped into it.
Toomey held a strong lead for much of the general-election battle, but the race tightened in the closing weeks as Democrats worked feverishly to narrow the so-called “enthusiasm gap.” Obama and Biden made multiple visits to the state, and national unions worked hard to drive up support for Democratic candidates.
Sestak also worked hard to tie Toomey to Wall Street, highlighting his support for derivatives that were blamed for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis. Toomey countered that Sestak would rubber-stamp Obama policies in Washington.
The race was a dead heat entering the closing weeks.