On jobs, venues speak for Toomey, Sestak

The Republican visits a troubled landmark hotel, the Democrat a spot near a defunct auto-parts plant.

STATE COLLEGE - Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Using carefully chosen, symbolic venues, the two candidates for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat spent Wednesday trying to persuade voters that they know what critical switches to throw to create jobs.

Each also continued to blame his opponent for helping to put the nation in its current pickle.

Republican Pat Toomey, a former three-term congressman from the Lehigh Valley, took his message to the industrial heart of Central Pennsylvania, addressing a Rotary Club luncheon in York.

The site, the venerable Yorktowne Hotel, could be Exhibit A for the troubled state of the economy that Toomey hopes to fix with lower taxes and lower spending.

The 85-year-old downtown landmark, home to the Rotary Club for as many years, is scheduled to be auctioned at a sheriff's sale in February. Its owners defaulted on their $4.5 million loan, blaming the economy for their travails.

Toomey's Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, a two-term member of Congress from Delaware County, met with former workers for a closed Ford auto-parts factory.

"Welcome aboard, admiral!" said Bill Patchell, a supporter from Montgomery Township, as Sestak, a retired admiral, entered the West Main Diner in Lansdale, down the street from one of the locations of the former plant.

Robert Bowen, the Rotary president and a financial consultant with Wells Fargo, said Toomey's message of smaller corporate taxes resonated with him. "We've been going down the wrong path. It's time for a change."

York, which has had a manufacturing base for over a century, has been particularly hard hit. Its marquee manufacturing plant - Harley-Davidson - has reduced its staff by a third, with more cuts coming next year.

Bowen said that as southern York has become a bedroom community for Baltimore commuters, the county has also seen a high number of mortgage foreclosures.

Toomey told the group of about 150 business leaders that "serial bailouts" and other policies pursued by Congress and the Obama administration were preventing a recovery. He accused the Democrats in Washington of piling up unsustainable debt and regulatory overreach.

He said entrepreneurs were not willing to take risks because they did not know what their tax rate or energy and health-care costs would be.

Earlier, Toomey joined GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett in a rally on the main campus of Pennsylvania State University organized by the College Republicans.

Tailoring his speech to the youthful audience of about 100, Toomey described the lagging economy as a threat to the career prospects of today's college generation.

He said he felt sure Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday would reject what he termed were the radically liberal policies of his Democratic rival.

"Even on national security issues, Joe Sestak is on the far-left fringe,"  he said, adding that Sestak was about "the only one I know" who believes that captured terrorists such as 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in civilian courts.

Toomey also launched what his campaign said is his final TV spot of the campaign.

Called "Focus," it features him with his family gathered around the crib of his infant son. "There's really nothing like the wonder of a new baby to focus your attention on the future," Toomey says. "I'll always be optimistic about America, but I worry about the direction we're heading - too much debt, not enough jobs, and the Washington politicians are making it worse."

Sestak, speaking to a crowd of about two dozen, accused Toomey of being a friend of corporations and Wall Street.

Holding up a copy of Toomey's book, Road to Prosperity, Sestak quoted passages describing job losses as a form of "creative destruction."

"He is not a witch, but this book is pretty scary," Sestak said, linking Toomey to Christine O'Donnell, the tea party-backed GOP Senate candidate in Delaware who has acknowledged youthful dabbling in witchcraft.

He also painted Toomey as ideologically driven to purge his own party of moderates, saying, "If you can't work with your own party's moderates, how can you expect to get anything done in Congress?"

Sestak said he has worked to close tax loopholes that encourage U.S. companies to invest overseas and, echoing some of his campaign ads, accused Toomey of advocating policies "that would help create jobs in China at the expense of America."

Sitting next to Sestak was Rick Jacobs, the 46-year-old president of United Auto Workers Local 1695. For 27 years, Jacobs worked for a company that built parts for Ford in factories in Worcester and Lansdale.

The facility went through several incarnations, the last as Visteon, and then filed for bankruptcy. It closed earlier this year, leaving 225 hourly workers and 75 salaried employees out of jobs.

"I would like to see free trade altered to fair trade," Jacobs told Sestak.

As the candidate made his way to the door, Dan Rothstein, a retired patternmaker for Jones New York and a registered Republican, said, "I like the way he talked about replacing jobs. I just don't know how possible his plans are."


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.