PHILADELPHIA – Joe Sestak had barely won the Democratic nod to run for U.S. Senate before he pledged to begin the next campaign within a matter of hours.
Sestak, a second-term congressman from suburban Philadelphia and a former Navy admiral, will face off against Republican nominee Pat Toomey in a campaign expected to focus on wallets, pocketbooks and kitchen tables from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
The fall campaign was set up by Sestak's victory over five-term U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter on Tuesday, as Democratic voters picked the candidate who had bucked party leaders to challenge the Republican-turned-Democrat.
"We'll see some real debates about failed philosophy that people tried, trickle-down economics of the eight years of George Bush and a different way to approach it," Sestak said of the campaign ahead.
In a video message on his Web site, Toomey, a conservative former congressman from the Allentown area, congratulated Sestak and said he looked forward to the campaign.
"Joe Sestak and I have major differences on important issues like job creation, taxes, spending, bailouts and health care," Toomey said. "He and I will give Pennsylvanians a good clear choice in November."
With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Sestak received 563,499 votes, or 54 percent; Specter received 480,801 votes, or 46 percent.
The vote also was a defeat for President Barack Obama, whose support Specter received when he abandoned the Republican Party last year.
The moderate Specter had cast his party switch as a decision of principle after inflaming the GOP by voting for Obama's economic stimulus bill. But many Democratic voters questioned his devotion to party values, even as Democratic Party leaders questioned Sestak's ability to beat Toomey.
Hours after Specter's loss, Gov. Ed Rendell said he still believed Specter would be a stronger candidate than Sestak against Toomey because of Specter's appeal to moderate Republicans in the heavily populated Philadelphia suburbs.
But he said the party and labor unions would swing behind Sestak despite having worked mightily to defeat him.
"We're all Democrats and we understand the importance of keeping the Democratic Senate and we all agree with Joe on the issues," Rendell said. "Will we do it with the same love and affection for Arlen? No."
In the days before the primary, Specter and Sestak also argued over who had the best chance of beating Toomey in the fall, and to some Democratic voters, it was the first topic on their mind.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Toomey in a close race against Sestak, with 42 percent to Sestak's 40 percent. Against Specter, Toomey held a slim lead, receiving 47 percent to Specter's 40 percent. The sampling error margin was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.