Three Dems seeking a shot at Sen. Toomey

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Katie McGinty (from left), Joe Sestak and John Fetterman.

AN A year when politics is a bucketful of crazy thrown against a wall, it's hard to predict what sticks or falls.

The leading GOP candidate for president, Donald Trump, makes headway by calling his nearest rival, Ted Cruz, a Canadian citizen and "nasty."

The top Democrat, Hillary Clinton, fights off contentions she committed a crime with state secrets on private email, while also fighting off socialist Bernie Sanders.

Who knows how the top of these tickets play out by spring?

So it is with Pennsylvania's Senate primary featuring three very different Democrats vying to take on first-term Republican Pat Toomey in November.

This week, candidates began circulating petitions to get on the April 26 ballot.

It's not tough. All you need is $200 and 2,000 signatures from any of more than four million registered Democratic voters.

It's early and the race is invisible, but it IS officially off and running, its outcome as predictable as the national races, or when Pennsylvania might get a budget.

There's Katie "The Institutional Lady" McGinty; Joe "I'd walk 422 miles in your shoes" Sestak; and John "The Giant" Fetterman.

McGinty, 52, from Chester County, is Ms. Democrat.

She worked for Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, and Tom Wolf. You don't get more Democratic than that.

She finished last in the four-way 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary with just 7.6 percent of the vote. But now she's seen as the front-runner.

Wait, what?

The party likes her best, labor likes her, and she'll draw national support and money from the likes of Emily's List on the theory of making history twice: Hillary, the nation's first woman president; McGinty, the state's first woman senator.

But Sestak, 64, a former congressman from Delaware County, a retired Navy admiral, has been running for Senate and walking across the state since losing to Toomey in 2010 by just 2 percentage points.

(You'll recall Sestak bucked his party by refusing to stand down in favor of Arlen Specter, who switched from R to D then lost to Sestak in the 2010 primary.)

Sestak is, well, intense. A machine. One top Democratic insider says, "There's probably not a Democratic primary voter Joe hasn't met."

Party leaders aren't fans. But then who are fans of party leaders?

Fetterman, 46, is mayor of Braddock, a tiny, impoverished borough outside Pittsburgh, and a wild card.

He's got more press, national and state, than the other two, largely because of his size (which is large: 6-foot-8 and 320-plus pounds) and appearance (bald, goateed, tattooed, work clothes only) but also because of his story.

He holds master's degrees in business from UConn and in public policy from Harvard. He's smart, likable, and Democratic-base-type left.

Think Bernie Sanders (whom he supports) on growth hormones.

When recognized in public, Fetterman concedes it's not name ID. He wishes he could get on the ballot as "that giant running for Senate."

In a year such as this, is he a candidate who could catch fire?

McGinty should have most resources (Sestak says the party works to "close off money" to him). Sestak has higher name ID. Fetterman will get lots of interest.

The Democratic presidential primary, depending on its status come April, could be a factor. Hillary helps McGinty; Sanders, if still around, could help Fetterman; Sestak's rogue routine and tirelessness could play well if the top of the ticket's decided and turnout is low.

The race will attract significant national interest, i.e., outside cash. The National Journal, The Hill, and various national pundits rank the Senate general election among the nation's most competitive, a "toss-up" or "tilts Republican."

It's a presidential year in a state that backed a Democrat for president in the last six elections - and at a time straight-ticket voting is on the rise.

But, again, it's early. We'll see what sticks to the wall.

Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

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