Katie McGinty Soundly Beats Joe Sestak for Democratic Senate Nomination

Progressive darling John Fetterman beat expectations with a solid third place showing.

Katie McGinty (left), Joe Sestak (right)

Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak (AP) 

Katie McGinty, Governor Tom Wolf‘s former chief of staff, won the four-way race Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate tonight, thoroughly beating her top rival, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.

The Associated Press called the race shortly before 10:30 p.m. With results from 84 percent of the precincts across the state reported, McGinty had netted 42 percent of the votes. Sestak was in a distant second place, with just 32 percent of the vote.

For most of the campaign, McGinty trailed Sestak, the former U.S. Navy Admiral who was the Democratic nominee U.S. Senate nominee in 2010 and came thisclose to beating Republican Pat Toomey. But McGinty surged late, and Sestak’s unpopularity with Democratic party elites seems to have caught up with him.

John Fetterman, the extremely large, tattooed mayor of the borough of Braddock won plenty of media attention, but trailed in the polls throughout the campaign. He finished third, but his 20 percent showing was stronger than expected, and could set him up for another campaign for a different office.

When McGinty took to the podium to deliver her victory speech, she revisited the working class themes that are the bones of her platform by invoking the memory of her parents, who raised 10 children in Northeast Philly. Her father was a beat cop, and her mother worked nights as a restaurant hostess.

“You wouldn’t get too far in complaining in the McGinty household. It was a no-complaint zone,” she said. “But we learned if you wanted [something], you had to work for it, you had to earn it.” But too many people today find that hard work doesn’t assure them of attaining even basic goals, like keeping a roof over their heads or sending their kids to a decent school.

McGinty said she would push for a higher minimum wage, and to “keep American industries right here in America.” Toomey, she said, “has been on the wrong side of every one of these issues…it’s your turn to elect a champion for the middle class!”

This was a quiet race, for the most part. But the stakes were high for the Democratic Party, which is hoping to regain control of the U.S. Senate.

Toomey is seen as politically vulnerable, particularly if Pennsylvania’s Democratic voters turn out in droves in November should Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz emerge as the Republican presidential candidate, which seems likely, at least for now. “Toomey is toast,” political guru Neil Oxman said at Famous 4th Street Deli on Tuesday afternoon.

Toomey voted for Cruz in the Pennsylvania primary, but McGinty, 52, repeatedly tried to tie Toomey to Trump during a brief conversation with reporters at the deli earlier in the day, even referring to the two as a “Trump/Toomey ticket.” (Hey, who doesn’t love a little alliteration?) “Pat Toomey has refused to denounce the divisive and really hateful speech we’ve heard from Donald Trump,” McGinty said.

Big name Democrats, from President Obama to former Gov. Ed Rendell to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, backed McGinty, who served as Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection under Rendell, then ran for governor in 2014, finishing a distant fourth. Despite that showing, McGinty was seen as a rising star in the party. She served briefly as the chief of staff for Gov. Tom Wolf, then was recruited by party leaders in Pennsylvania and nationally.

So she was the establishment pick during a political season that’s been all about eyebrow-raising outsiders, from Trump to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to Fetterman.

Sestak, 64, was situated somewhere in between — a former Navy admiral who previously served in Congress, but who was also loathed by Democratic insiders for having defied their wishes by running against and beating the late Arlen Specter in the 2010 primary, after Specter decided to switch parties and run as a Democrat. (Sestak went on to loose to Toomey in the general election, natch.)

Sestak launched his campaign last spring by walking across the state in an old, beat-to-hell pair of Reeboks. Fetterman, 46, proved fascinating to the media. Beyond his imposing frame lurked an unexpected story of an Ivy League-educated guy with wealthy roots who dedicated himself to the people of a small, poverty-stricken old steel town. But Fetterman had a tough time raising money, and convincing voters that he could make the leap from mayor of a forgotten pocket in Western Pennsylvania to U.S. senator.

McGinty, meanwhile, benefitted from big time national support (EMILY’s List poured $1 million into her campaign) and the goodwill she generated during her gubernatorial campaign. She did particularly well here in Southeast Pennsylvania. She didn’t hesitate to talk up her Northeast Philly roots, or her father’s 35-year police career. She didn’t shy away from the scrutiny police have faced from Black Lives Matter protestors over controversial shootings during the last few years. “Let’s have a dialogue in our communities where the police officers know the neighborhood, and where the ranks of the police officers reflect the neighborhood. Let’s have diversity in the ranks,” she said at the deli on Tuesday. “Sure, I think we need training in terms of de-escalation. I think we should use technology like body cameras. But mostly, let’s get back to a good, healthy dialogue where police are a part of the community, and the community feels a partnership with police.”

Voters who want to shake up the status quo could take heart in the fact that McGinty would be Pennsylvania’s first female senator, and the only woman in the state’s congressional delegation. She’s also been a vocal advocate for a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Whether those attributes — and hefty support from the Democratic Party — will be enough to topple Toomey remains to be seen.