Ex-Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak joins massive 2020 presidential field

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Joe Sestak in 2010 (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak is once again on the campaign trail, now the latest contender to join the bid for the White House in 2020. The former three-star admiral is a seasoned campaigner and fundraiser — albeit unsuccessfully for the last decade.

Sestak raised a massive $13.5 million in his last general election campaign, the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate race for the seat previously held by Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter. After switching parties, Specter was defeated by Sestak who then narrowly lost to Republican Pat Toomey by two points.

Prior to that, Sestak represented Pennsylvania’s 7th district, which has since been redistricted, but at the time was a regularly competitive seat. The same year he lost his bid for Senate, he also lost his House seat, blown out by 10 points by Republican challenger Pat Meehan.

Throughout his two terms in the House, Sestak was tied closely with the securities and investment and education industries, which contributed to his campaign third and fourth most respectively. Sestak received contributions from those employed at a number of higher educational institutions in the greater Philadelphia region including Lehigh University, Temple University, University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College. Contributors employed by the University of Pennsylvania were the top donors to Sestak’s campaign over his three terms in congress, totaling almost $137,000 in individual contributions.

Sestak served on the House Armed Services Committee and received a hefty sum from the defense sector totaling just over $458,000 during his career.

During his time in Congress, Sestak was a frequent user of earmarks, appropriating money for special projects within his district. Congress banned the practice the year Sestak was voted out of office, but during his last term he earmarked almost $26 million in funding for his district, ranking 164th out of the 435 members in the House.

In 2016, Sestak again ran for the Pennsylvania Senate seat but faced a highly competitive and costly primary race. He managed to raise $4 million for the April primary, but came in second of four vote-getters with 32.6 percent of the vote. Primary winner Katie McGinty secured 42.5 percent of the primary vote but lost to Toomey in the general election.

After his latest failed Senate bid Sestak paid off campaign expenditures and refunded most of his unused campaign contributions. As of July 2016 he had around $20,000 in his campaign committee account. He’s kept that committee alive since then, expensing between $800 and $2,000 per quarter to keep web services, Dropbox storage space, credit card bills and a Verizon wireless plan. As of the latest filing, which encompasses January through March, Sestak’s old committee had $73.93 on hand, which is almost enough to cover a one-way Greyhound bus trip from Philadelphia to the early primary state of New Hampshire.

Sestak had a three-decades-long career in the Navy. He served for a time as a three-star admiral as the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs, where he advocated restructuring fleets to maximize cost efficiency and transitioning to cyber warfare. He was reassigned under the Bush administration and retired from service as a two-star admiral.

In launching his campaign for president, Sestak is drawing upon his career in global affairs and understanding of military operations to set himself aside from the wide Democratic primary field.
“Our country desperately needs a president with a depth of global experience and an understanding of all the elements of our nation’s power, from our economy and our diplomacy to the power of our ideals and our military,” Sestak said in a video announcement on his campaign website.

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