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McGinty charges ahead to beat Sestak in Dems’ Senate primary

Tom Fontaine
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Katie McGinty greets a poll worker before casting her vote Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Wayne, Pa. Former Congressman Joe Sestak looks to hold off McGinty, the party-endorsed candidate, and win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, setting up a rematch with the Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Toomey.
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Submitted
Katie McGinty, a former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary, is the 2016 Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.
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Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman
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Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman greets supporters at Brew Gentleman in Braddock after losing his bid for senate on Tuesday, April 26, 2016.
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Susan Sestak, left, watches her husband, former Congressman Joe Sestak, speak at a gathering outside his campaign headquarters, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Media, Pa. Sestak lost the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to party-endorsed Katie McGinty who will face Republican incumbent Pat Toomey in November.

Katie McGinty’s U.S. Senate campaign appeared to be tanking a month ago.

Now, after a furious comeback against former congressman Joe Sestak in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, McGinty is her party’s choice to challenge U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, in November, unofficial tallies show.

With 80 percent of Pennsylvania’s precincts reporting, McGinty collected 45 percent of votes cast, while Sestak had 35 percent and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman 20 percent. Toomey did not have a Republican opponent.

“I’m proud to be Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee to take on, and beat, Pat Toomey this November,” McGinty wrote in an email.

“We’ve got a long, hard road ahead, but our victory today proves that this grassroots team has what it takes to pull together and win,” McGinty said.McGinty, who led Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Ed Rendell, didn’t enter the Senate race until August. By March, her campaign had gained little traction.

Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs showed McGinty, 52, of Chester County polling at 14 percent in March, roughly where she was when she entered the race, and trailing Sestak by 17 percentage points.

Then, fueled by a slew of endorsements from labor unions and elected officials like President Obama and millions of dollars from donors and outside groups that financed an advertising blitz, McGinty started closing the gap.

Sestak, 64, of Delaware County came up just short again. Six years ago, the former Navy admiral who spent two terms in Congress, lost to Toomey by 2 percentage points in his first bid for the Senate. The loss was damaging — some party leaders never forgave Sestak for refusing to drop out of the 2010 primary contest against party-switching U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a powerful senator they considered a stronger opponent against Toomey in the general election.

After the loss, Sestak remained a regular at political forums, fundraisers and other events — prompting some observers to say that he never stopped campaigning for the Senate. But party leaders never warmed to him, and they recruited McGinty to enter the race last summer.

Sestak’s campaign did not return messages.

In a year when establishment candidates such as McGinty appeared to fall out of vogue, Fetterman, 46, appeared to be an intriguing candidate. The 6-foot-8-inch mayor with a Harvard degree looked more Hell’s Angel than senator, and he’d spent more than a decade working to rebuild financially distressed Braddock through an array of innovative programs.

But the progressive Fetterman, who entered the race in September, couldn’t overcome McGinty’s money or Sestak’s name recognition. His polling numbers never climbed out of the single digits, according to Franklin & Marshall.

“I am profoundly grateful to all of my supporters. You took a small-town mayor from an old steel town and made me a contender for the U.S. Senate,” Fetterman told supporters at The Brew Gentlemen brewery in Braddock.

“We came up short, but we started a movement … now let’s have a beer,” Fetterman said.

Salena Zito contributed. Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].

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