Throughout their campaigns for the U. S. Senate, both Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak tried to paint each other as extremists. But as Pennsylvania voters weighed in today, they were split nearly down the middle between the two candidates, making the race too close to call in the early counting tonight.
Sestak jumped out to an early lead, as high as 125,000 votes, as state election officials began posting numbers on their Web site. But many of the state’s strongly-Republican counties were slow reporting their results, and Toomey began whittling down Sestak’s lead as the evening went on.
Toomey, 48, a former Congressman from the Lehigh Valley with conservative views against government spending, taxes and regulations, held a lead in virtually all the pre-election polls. But his margin narrowed in recent weeks as President Obama and other leading Democrats visited the state repeatedly trying to energize Democratic voters.
Sestak, 58, a former Navy admiral who’s represented Delaware County in Congress the past four years, had supported the broad efforts by the Obama and Bush administrations to shore up the economy with federal bailouts, economic-stimulus bills and aid to the auto industry. Toomey had criticized the lot as an ineffective use of tax dollars, driving up the national debt and interfering with free-market economics.
The winner will replace Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U. S. Senator, epublican-turned Democrat Arlen Specter, whose 30-year run was ended by Sestak in last May’s Democratic primary.
Toomey campaigned as an outsider, but with corporate connections, as leader of the pro-business group Club for Growth, that allowed him to draw national attention and millions of dollars in out-of-state campaign financing.
A native of Rhode Island, Toomey graduated from Harvard, spent six years trading derivatives on Wall Street and a year in Hong Kong as a financial analyst. Then he settled outside Allentown, joining his brother in a family-owned restaurant business. He was elected to the U. S. House in his mid-30s but gave up the seat after three terms to challenge U. S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican primary, losing narrowly.
He remained a prominent public figure as the leader of the Club for Growth, a national organization with a conservative fiscal message against federal budget deficits and taxes.
Sestak, the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress, gave up the seat to go after Specter, against the wishes of many Democratic leaders. Sestak portrayed himself as the real Democrat in the race and won handily ¬– only to have his support for the Obama administration’s economic stimulus and healthcare bills attacked by Toomey in the general election.
Sestak replied with a campaign ad featuring his dog, Belle. “My family loves Belle,” the Congressman said, “but she can make a mess and we need to clean it up. It made me sick to bail out the banks, but I had to clean up the mess left by these guys,” pointing to pictures of Toomey and George Bush. “They let Wall Street run wild.”
Sestak grew up in Springfield, Delaware County ¬– a solidly-Republican area where his brother needed the support of a GOP powerbroker to get a summer job as a lifeguard at a municipal swimming pool.
He went to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and spent 31 years in the Navy, with wartime assignments supporting the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and a stint on the White House national security staff in the Clinton administration.