A Tale of Two Colleagues: Meehan Vs. Stollsteimer In 2012?

This article by Chris Friend is being published with his kind permission.

It could be a battle royale between the two former prosecutors, but what about Joe Sestak?

Assistant District Attorney, Delaware County.


Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania,
specializing in prosecuting illegal firearms cases and violent drug
offenders.


Governor-appointed Safe Schools Advocate for the School District of
Philadelphia — a position that was ultimately “eliminated” not for
budgetary reasons, but because he publicly chastised the Governor and
Department of Education for their willful failure to protect students.


Was often mentioned as a possible nominee for United States Attorney.


And now, this person is considering running for Congress as a strong get-tough-on crime candidate.


Such a resume would seem a great springboard for elected office, as
law-and-order candidates have met with great success lately: Governors
Tom Corbett and Chris Christie are former prosecutors, as are
Pennsylvania Congressmen Tom Marino and Pat Meehan, as well as State
Representative Todd Stephens.


But here’s where it gets interesting.  All the aforementioned
politicians are Republicans, but this resume belongs to Jack
Stollsteimer, a self-styled RFK Democrat who is strongly positioned to
win his Party’s nomination in next year’s Seventh Congressional District
race.  To claim the ultimate prize in November, he would have to beat
not just a Republican, but his former U.S. Attorney boss, Rep. Pat
Meehan.


But first things first. Will the path to the nomination be clear, or
will a well-known Democrat with a history of success — and
unpredictability — decide to throw his hat into the ring? And if so,
when?


*****


The district, which includes most of Delaware County, parts of
Chester County and a section of Montgomery, is traditionally perceived
as Republican, because voter registration favors the GOP, and the
Delaware County courthouse has long been controlled by the well-oiled
Republican Machine.


But while Republicans hold a majority of offices throughout the
county, their grip on power has been slipping.  No Republican
presidential candidate has won Delco since 1988, and numerous Democratic
state legislators now represent districts long-held by the GOP. But
perhaps most telling, in 2010 — the largest Republican wave since 1946
— both Governor Tom Cornett and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey lost the
county.


Yet Pat Meehan won by ten points.


Meehan’s impressive showing was bolstered by the Republican tidal
wave and the fact that it was an open seat, since former Congressman Joe
Sestak ran for U.S. Senate.  That substantial victory has provided him a
solid foundation to launch his re-election bid. 


But to stay in office, he will have to wage an aggressive campaign,
taking nothing for granted. Unlike last year, he now owns a voting
record. And when it comes to Congress, Seventh District voters have an
independent streak that defies conventional political wisdom. 


In the 70’s and 80’s, the Seventh was represented by Bob Edgar,
arguably to the Left of Mao and universally recognized as the most
liberal member of Congress.  After giving up the seat to
(unsuccessfully) run for U.S. Senate, Edgar was replaced by the
generally-conservative Republican Curt Weldon. But in the Democratic
wave of 2006, he lost to Sestak, a former Navy Admiral who, like Edgar,
was unabashedly liberal.


Understanding the volatile electorate, the District’s wild
fluctuations of the past, and sensing that the seat is not as safe as
last year’s election results would indicate, the national Republican
Campaign Congressional Committee has “enrolled” Meehan in its Patriot
Program.  An effort designed to assist mostly freshmen, the program
targets the top ten GOP legislators whose perceived vulnerabilities will
likely lead to tough reelection fights.


*****


Stollsteimer has been actively courted not just by local leaders but
the national Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee. To take on
Meehan, though, he must first secure the Democratic Party’s nomination. 
To that end, his plan is to aggressively work the committee to earn its
endorsement, hopefully avoiding an expensive, and potentially bruising,
primary fight. He has already made inroads, having secured the backing
of several highly influential Democrats within the Party hierarchy.


“Jack would be a great candidate if he decides to run, with a strong
profile and reputation for independence and integrity, that has
attracted the attention of the national Democratic Party,” a Party
leader in the district told “Freindly Fire.”


That official requested anonymity, though, as the path has not yet
been smoothly paved for Stollsteimer — or any other potential
candidate.  And that’s because there is an 800 pound gorilla hovering in
the wings who could change the dynamics of the race at a moment’s
notice — for both the primary and general elections.


And in typical fashion, that individual is playing it coy, not
announcing his intentions whether to seek the Congressional seat —
which he happened to hold just seven months ago.


Joe Sestak is the ultimate wild card, an independent Democrat who has
often clashed with Party powerbrokers and a person to whom the terms
“conventional wisdom” and “predictability” simply do not apply.


He gave up what virtually every political analyst stated was a
near-100 percent safe seat, to run as David against Goliath — 30-year
incumbent powerhouse Arlen Specter, whose war chest dwarfed that of
Sestak. The political insiders not only didn’t give Sestak much of a
chance — he was trailing by more than 20 points just a few months out
from the primary — but did everything in their power to stop him. 


They attempted to talk him out of running, not just to keep the
Congressional seat safe but to avoid a primary challenge to Specter. 
When that didn’t work, there was the “Job Gate” offer, in which Sestak
said the White House dangled a high-ranking position in exchange for his
dropping out of the senate race. But that didn’t work, either.


Then the D’s took the gloves off, with prominent leaders, including
then-Governor Rendell and the state Democratic Party chairman, openly
attacking Sestak on numerous fronts.  They said he could not win a
general election, and predicted a Sestak primary victory would be
“cataclysmic” in the fall election.


And yet, despite the GOP wave, Sestak lost to Toomey by a mere two points.


Would Sestak present a viable candidacy to Meehan?  Absolutely.  The
2012 elections will be more favorable to Democrats, not just because a
presidential year always brings out more voters, and political waves are
never sustainable when they crest at such a high level, but because the
“Republicans-are-destroying-our-Medicare” issue will undoubtedly gain
traction.  Democrats are already pointing to their win in the recent New
York special election as evidence, given that the seat was widely
expected to remain in GOP hands.


But for the Democrats to be successful in the Seventh next year, they
need to unify soon or risk losing good candidates.  Very few will be
willing to put blood, sweat and tears into a campaign — and they would
have to open a committee very soon — while the specter of a Sestak
candidacy still looms.  And if Sestak declines to run, but announces
that decision late in the game, precious time will have been wasted.


Sestak would most likely be able to establish a grassroots operation
and generate significant fundraising relatively quickly, due to the
national network gained from his senate run, but the same is not the
case for other candidates. They would have to lay the groundwork, and
that takes time and resources.  And many potential donors and campaign
workers will stay on the sidelines, reluctant to commit to someone like
Stollsteimer — no matter how attractive a candidate he may be —
until Sestak makes up his mind. 


In an age where campaigns routinely begin over a year out from the
election, any significant delay could prove a boon for the Meehan camp.
Translation: the longer Joe Sestak remains noncommittal, the less likely
the Democrats’ chances for success next November.


Will Sestak get back into the political fray?  If so, would it be for
Congress, a position some think is not prominent enough for someone
used to commanding a carrier-battle group — especially when he would
likely return to Washington in the minority? And why would Sestak still
be touring Pennsylvania, meeting new Democrats statewide, if he intends
to run in the relatively small Seventh District? 


It is never easy when it comes to predicting anything regarding Joe
Sestak, and experience has shown that most “experts” are wrong anyway.


So the biggest question is the simplest one: at this point, does even
Joe Sestak himself have any idea what he is going to do?  Whatever the
answer, it’s in the best interest of his Party to make up his mind
quickly.


Let the games begin.

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