For his 2016 Senate campaign, Joe Sestak notoriously walked over 400 miles across Pennsylvania with little more than his signature Reeboks. Now that the former congressman and three-star Navy admiral is running for president, does he plan to walk the country?
The walking tour idea was pitched to him back in March — and he actually considered it.
“I thought at the time, ‘That’s great,’” Sestak told Billy Penn in an interview. “I’d be going through other states, I’d be walking through other places that have been devastated like Ohio.”
But Sestak wouldn’t announce his candidacy for another three months, a delay he said was caused by his daughter’s battle with brain cancer. And with a staggering disadvantage in the crowded field — he’s the 24th Democrat to announce — he didn’t have time to foot it out to the Midwest.
“I needed to get out here, I’ve got a shot. It’s a long shot, but it’s a very doable one if I get the message out well,” Sestak said from the campaign trail in Iowa.
After announcing his eleventh-hour bid for the White House on Sunday, Sestak blamed the Democratic establishment for his loss to party-backed Katie McGinty in that fateful race for U.S. Senate.
The Delaware County native, who relocated his family to Alexandria, Va., last year, then argued that his anti-establishment credentials are more in demand now than ever — and that he could win back Democrats who voted for Trump.
In 2016, Sestak had long been viewed as the frontrunner to challenge Sen. Pat Toomey. Just a few weeks before the primary, he was polling double digits above Democratic rival McGinty. That lead withered when national Democratic leaders put more than $4.5 millon behind McGinty in the final stretch of the race.
The party’s beef with Sestak? He had made a previous run against their wishes.
In 2010, Sestak turned down a request from the Obama White House to drop out of the Senate race against then-Sen. Arlen Specter, who had just switched from Republican to Democrat. Sestak beat Specter in the primary, but narrowly lost to Toomey in the general. Fast forward to 2016: McGinty beats Sestak soundly, then loses to Toomey in what shaped up to be one of the most competitive races of the year.
Sestak feels the party leadership misled Democratic voters.
“They chose one of their own to run, and the Republicans annihilated our nominee — in the year of ‘draining the swamp,’” Sestak said. “I’m not complaining. It happened. But this time, people really do understand.”
Understand what exactly?
“They just thought the system wasn’t responsive to them,” Sestak added. “I do think that people in America look at Washington D.C. as an entrenched circle of political elites and corporate lobbyists that actually both have their own interests at heart.”
In one of several videos published with his presidential announcement, Sestak said that he also eventually “sided with the Republican” voter in 2016. Some took that to mean the admiral personally voted for Trump or Toomey in the general election.
Asked for clarification, Sestak said it was a reference to his walk across the state in Pennsylvania, where he met Republican voters who said they appreciated what he was doing. Democratic leadership, he said, tried to scuttle his walking tour.
According to Sestak, “[New York Senator] Chuck Schumer called me and told me to stop walking and start fundraising. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, I have to keep walking.’”
Pressed about his personal vote in 2016, Sestak told Billy Penn he “voted Democratic.”