Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race between Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak may boil down to a simple question: Do voters hate Wall Street or Washington more?
Strategists and analysts looking ahead to the general election in November see the campaign playing out as a classic clash between champions of differing worldviews, one liberal and one conservative.
Expect Sestak to try to caricature Toomey as a Wall Street insider whose vision of minimal regulation and tax cuts helped turn the financial markets into a big casino that wrecked the economy.
Toomey, for his part, will try to tag Sestak as a socialist advocate of greater Washington control who sits in Nancy Pelosi’s lap eating bonbons.
“In my mind it’s going to be a question of who brands whom first,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican political consultant based in Harrisburg. “It will all turn on what happens in the relatively near future.”
The match was set Tuesday, when Sestak defeated Sen. Arlen Specter, who was running for reelection as a Democrat for the first time. Toomey easily won the GOP nomination over conservative social-issues activist Peg Luksik.
On Wednesday, Toomey began his general-election campaign as the Republican nominee with a news conference at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport Jet Center. He later traveled in a twin-engine Piper PA-31 Navajo to Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie.
Toomey argued that Sestak was on the far left of the Democratic Party, noting that the Democrat voted for federal bailouts and for the $787 billion stimulus – and saying that Sestak believed it should have been $1 trillion. He said Sestak also favored an even more aggressive “takeover” of the health-care system.
“Joe is not just in lockstep with this agenda in Washington, but he wants to take it even further to the left,” Toomey said. “He does have a 100 percent voting record with Nancy Pelosi this year. . . . So we’re going to have a very clear choice this fall. Joe’s a very honorable, decent man . . . but it is a very different vision of government.”
Toomey said that reducing deficit spending and stopping the staggering growth in the federal debt were his priorities.
Meanwhile, on a day that took him from campaigning in Center City to extended rounds of congressional committee voting in Washington, Sestak on Wednesday began laying out how he will run against Toomey: almost the same way he ended his campaign against Specter.
The two-term representative went negative, with considerable return on investment, in the closing days of the primary campaign by reminding voters of Specter’s support, while he was a Republican, of former President George W. Bush.
Sestak’s first official day of general-election campaigning focused on equating Toomey with Bush’s “savage, regressive” tax cuts and spending policies.
“Pat takes care of Wall Street, and with President Bush, he took care of the very wealthy,” Sestak told one questioner during a series of media interviews.
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