Donors Giving Sestak Big Money for … Whatever

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One of the most interesting things that’s happened so far with (partial) regards to PA Gov race was Joe Sestak’s raking in of $460,000 in the first quarter without announcing any candidacy for anything — which is technically more than Schwartz’s $416,000 in Q1, and she is an announced candidate.

If any of your brains function like mine (and I apologize whole-heartedly for this), you were wondering what the Admiral told his donors to bring in that kind of cash. Normally, people don’t give you money in politics for absolutely no reason — so my first thought was that he had to tell them something, or at least strongly hint at the fact that he was gearing up to run for Governor, or his old house seat, or even start ridiculously early to challenge Toomey again in 2016. One of those. Something specific. Anything.

But, according to the Delco Times, his donors just kind of … gave it to him:

In telephone interviews Monday, three Sestak contributors said they don’t care whether he runs for governor or U.S. Senate. They cited his military experience, his intellect and his seemingly boundless energy as factors that give him a leg up in any race.

[…] “He just called me to tell me he was running,” Goldman recalled. “I said, ‘Whatever you run for, I will support and contribute what I can.”

Some people just really seem to like the guy — and that’s actually a very good angle for Admiral Sestak to have right now, as you commonly hear many tales of frustration and a bit of anger with regards to him and his campaign from the Party and his former staff. But, with stories like this, you know that there are some folks out there that solely focus on his work ethic and ability to get things done — not how well he works with the establishment folks within the Democratic Party.

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7 Responses to Donors Giving Sestak Big Money for … Whatever

  1. David Diano says:

    Joe’s donors are pretty blood-oath loyal to him, so he probably had a pre-agreement with them about what to say. You must remember, this whole thing was not only handled with stealth, and in a highly coordinated matter (all donations in a two week period), but nearly ALL the donors sent him $5,000.

    Clearly, this was started in Feb (when a few donors gave a bit to keep him afloat with a few thousand extra for operating costs). So, it’s more than reasonable that Sestak contacted most of them in Jan/Feb, and told them to make the donation at the end of March (or send in the checks in Feb, and post-date them for end-of-March, so it looked like 2-weeks of fundraising). Joe’s pretty sneaky (but pretty transparent as well, once you know what to look for and avoid his clumsy mis-directs).

    Now, there must have been a few dozen donors who Sestak called who DIDN’T give him any money, particularly when he indicated what office he was seeking. Finding them, and getting them to tell their story would be interesting. I’d hunt for Joe’s previous max-limit donors who are not in the new group of max-donors.

    But, the lemmings (and that’s what the are) who would support Joe without regard to the office he’s seeking are foolish with their money and short-sighted. If Sestak runs for Congress in 2014, every dime he raises will go toward unseating Meehan (and nepotism for Joe’s family in the campaign). If Joe runs for Governor, every dime he raised last month will go towards damaging the other Democratic candidates, and not toward attacking Corbett. Also, all the money raised by the other Dems will go toward attacking Joe and each other. It’s not any of the other major Gov candidates are unacceptable and Joe needs to “save us” from anyone.

    If his donors actually believe that Joe is interested in the “greater good” and Democratic party strength, they should flat-out refuse to give Sestak a single penny for anything other than Congress in 2014, and pull out any donations already given if he switches to Gov race.

    Corbett is VERY vulnerable, but we need a fully funded, undamaged Dem to be the nominee in 2014. Sestak would preclude that, and his entry into the primary field would all but guarantee Corbett’s reelection.

    Schwartz moved $3 million into Gov race, and she’s in to the bitter end. McCord (who is my personal preference) will pull out the moment he realizes that Schwartz is going to get the Montco Dem endorsement. He can’t be viable without the endorsement of his own county. The other candidates will probably pull out if they don’t get any traction and have trouble fundraising. Wolf, who’s offered up $10 million of his own money, could stay in without donors. But, it would depend on his message and how he resonates when introduced to the voters. Sestak has no real message beyond, “I was in the Navy for 31 years, and became a 3 star Admiral.” Seriously, can anyone think of key position associated with Sestak?

    Now, if Joe runs for Congress, he can actually be a hero/darling of the party. First of all, the 7th is about the most gerrymandered district in the country. Sestak’s the only Dem capable of taking it back from Meehan (due to fundraising, name recognition, and Joe’s mongol hordes of volunteers). Also, if he decides to help (not sabotage) the St. Leg candidates in the 7th, he could be instrumental in flipping the State House (and earn some genuine bragging rights and party appreciation).

    So, “Sestak Fans” out there, THINK about it. What does the MOST good and gets Dems the most political bang-for-their-buck. So, ask/tell Joe to do the right thing, and refuse to support him if he does the wrong thing.

    • Ryan says:

      I agree with some of your post (you can assume I don’t think you’re wrong on whatever I don’t respond to) — but I think you’re not taking a few things into account as well:

      1) Like mostly all Democratic primaries, it’ll start off on positive self-pieces and negative Corbett pieces for all the candidates — but sooner or later, it will delve into negative territory. Schwartz won’t be above that, and likely neither will McCord — so I think it’s a bit unfair to assume that Sestak’s the only one that would make the primary negative. And I don’t necessarily see this happening due to Schwartz-support and fundraising, but if Sestak does jump in as the clear front-runner, he likely won’t go negative at all — just as the rest of them would do.

      2) Just because Joe was “saving us” from Arlen Specter (even though, as a Democrat, dude turned out to be one of the most liberal in the Senate [even after he lost]) doesn’t mean that’s all he’s allowed to do in the future. He can just run for things because he thinks he’s the best candidate out of the bunch.

      3) And Sestak has a relatively strong policy platform — I really do disagree that he’s only around because he was in the Navy. When I think of Joe Sestak, I think about him being on the frontlines for a lot of our major health care issues (obviously including the ACA), specifically linked to how his daughter got diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when she was three — and how if he didn’t have the health care he did, she wouldn’t be around today, which is why he fights so hard to make sure everybody has the ability to care for themselves and their children like he was able to.

      4) Finally, it’s ridiculously preemptive to assume that a Sestak primary win will mean a Corbett reelection in any sense of the word. Beyond some questionable choices his Senate campaign made during the midterms, he’s a solid candidate. And just by the numbers, you really can’t assume that somebody topping Corbett by 11 points in their most recent head-to-head will somehow result in a loss just because of a traditional Democratic primary.

      I’m not even necessarily a Sestak-supporter should he jump into the PA Gov race (though I might be, pending on how cozy Schwartz stays with the hospital lobby), I just felt the need to defend him against some relatively unfair accusations.

      • David Diano says:

        Ryan-
        Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

        1) I agree that it will start of “nice” with positive pieces. I’m not saying that Sestak will be the only one going negative, but rather that his entry will cause even more negativity and wasted dollars. Also, I predict that when Sestak is attacked, he will pretend his military service is being attacked and gather the same two dozen vets he used in his 2006 and 2010 “shout out/lovefest” commercial and make a 2014 version.

        2) My point about “saving us” was the message that Joe ran/won on for the Primary. That message just won’t work here for Gov, against a field of loyal Democrats with much better track records than Joe. Don’t forget, Sestak served one term in congress and spent his entire second term running for Senate. So, it’s not like he really has that much actual experience as an elected official compared to the rest of the field (or experience in nuts-and-bolts PA state politics).

        3) If Joe’s non-Navy was really so strong, why did the campaign change it’s T-shirts to just the single word “Admiral” on front immediately after the primary? Joe’s running on his Naval career has been running out of steam. It was great in 2006 when the Iraq War was the key political issue.
        Sestak was essentially a one-issue candidate that year. He constantly talked about “timetables” and how he would stand up against Bush. However, once he got into office he voted FOR Bush’s Iraq War funding, that contained no timetables. In his May 2007 floor speech, Sestak claimed he thought timetables were the “only viable solution”, then he voted for a bill without timetables. (ie one he claimed was not viable)
        Since then, Sestak has attacked Obama for favoring timetables for pulling out of Afghanistan. Joe’s been quite hawkish.
        On health care, he voted against Kucinich amendment for single-payer. The progressives who work on health care are not fans of Joe, though he has certainly fooled the people who aren’t close to the issue.

        4) I’m not convinced that Sestak can even win a Dem primary once the dust settles and the field narrows to the core candidates, but his entry into the primary will guarantee the winner will be bankrupt entering the general. This helps Corbett.

        So, if even if Joe wins the battle, he’ll lose the war. 2014 is going to be an even worse turnout year than 2010, with just Gov and no Senate race. The worse the turnout, the better for the GOP, because they consistently turn out higher percentage of their voters.

        BTW, I think Schwartz will prevail (barring some scandal/misstep). Part of what puts her over is the post-Kane, pre-Hillary mindset of women winning statewide in PA. I think this will attract a lot of female votes, and allow her to capitalize on the GOP war on women.

        My personal pick is McCord (as gov, more than as candidate) as I think he’s got the economic/business chops (and understanding of PA treasury) to fix the PA economy and budget problems. It’s not a particularly “sexy” issue, but there’s a lot of repair needed and he seems to have the best skill set for that.

      • David Diano says:

        BTW, on Joe’s homepage, here are his search engine keywords. Note the order. :-)
        “Joe Sestak, admiral, navy, united states, congress, congressman, rep, representative, senate, government, democrat, republican”

  2. Daniel Roche says:

    “Sestak has no real message beyond, ‘I was in the Navy for 31 years, and became a 3 star Admiral.’ Seriously, can anyone think of key position associated with Sestak?”

    Do you happen to recall why he made the Navy career such a prominent aspect of his messaging? He has this weird habit of tying his biographical narrative to his aims and qualifications for higher office. (Some might call this “crafting a personal narrative.”) Here are some examples:

    Education–Sestak frequently referenced his Navy career to point out that a lot of disadvantaged kids started to show promise once they started their careers in the Navy, i.e. when they finally had the resources and social structure present to succeed. Sestak would present this as his reasoning for embracing the liberal idea that the one of the best ways to strengthen the country in both terms of economics, society, and security is actually fully supporting and funding the education of our youth from kindergaten to college.

    Health care–You seem to take a lot of interest in Sestak’s residence and his daughter. Again, the whole daughter story is almost always tied into a larger narrative of why he thinks the current for-profit health care system in this country is founded on bad policy and ideas and immoral.

    Economics–He frequently cited studies from his time in the executive level of the Navy that identify
    economic security as a priority for the security of the nation overall. Sestak would typically use this to segue into a larger narrative of why we need more aggressive trade policy, better stewardship of our educational and research institutions, more jobs, etc.
    Joe’s donors are pretty blood-oath loyal to him, so he probably had a pre-agreement with them about what to say. You must remember, this whole thing was not only handled with stealth, and in a highly coordinated matter (all donations in a two week period), but nearly ALL the donors sent him $5,000.

    “Clearly, this was started in Feb (when a few donors gave a bit to keep him afloat with a few thousand extra for operating costs). So, it’s more than reasonable that Sestak contacted most of them in Jan/Feb, and told them to make the donation at the end of March (or send in the checks in Feb, and post-date them for end-of-March, so it looked like 2-weeks of fundraising). Joe’s pretty sneaky (but pretty transparent as well, once you know what to look for and avoid his clumsy mis-directs).”

    Here, you’re veering away from editorializing or analyzing Sestak’s strengths or weaknesses as a potential candidate and presenting yourself as a figure similar to The Shadow. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? David Diano knows!”

    “Now, there must have been a few dozen donors who Sestak called who DIDN’T give him any money, particularly when he indicated what office he was seeking. Finding them, and getting them to tell their story would be interesting. I’d hunt for Joe’s previous max-limit donors who are not in the new group of max-donors.”

    Instead of trolling the comments section of EVERY article I’ve read about this since the fundraising figures were released, couldn’t you, say, execute such an investigation yourself? As you point out, it’s pretty easy to identify the targets and make those calls . . .

    “[Sanctimony, name-calling, and jabs at the Sestaks.] If Joe runs for Governor, every dime he raised last month will go towards damaging the other Democratic candidates, and not toward attacking Corbett.”

    When people start the hand-wringing over Joe sitting the 2010 coordinated out and doing his own thing–in other years, I’d agree that this was a bad move–they usually forget to mention something important: the 2010 national coordinated campaign was a sick joke. They were using TRADING CARDS as organizational tools. Either OFA completely forgot how to run an actual GOTV operation between the 2008 and 2012 cycles OR they were basically cynically stealing from the 2010 candidates to build the data infrastructure for the 2012 re-elect and throwing up the most blatant fig leafs to obscure this. (Every campaign–every single campaign–that outperformed the general 2010 results, SFS included, basically turned down OFA’s “help” and ran their own GOTV operation.)

    “If his donors actually believe that Joe is interested in the “greater good” and Democratic party strength, they should flat-out refuse to give Sestak a single penny for anything other than Congress in 2014, and pull out any donations already given if he switches to Gov race.”

    This view seems to ignore an important fact: Joe was the top Democratic vote-getter in PA in 2010 and one of the top fundraisers in the entire country that year. The argument that he “hurt” the Democratic field that year is pretty ridiculous. I could see this argument having merit if he flamed out spectacularly in the general election or didn’t build much of an organization during the entire cycle. But when he brings more people out to vote than any other Democratic candidate in the state? Uh, no. (Also, his over-reliance on phone canvassing had the pleasant effect for the local, state, and national DCCs of completely updating and streamlining their phone data. We called through the entire phone universe several times during the general and got rid of most of the redundant and inoperative contact info.)

    “Corbett is VERY vulnerable, but we need a fully funded, undamaged Dem to be the nominee in 2014. Sestak would preclude that, and his entry into the primary field would all but guarantee Corbett’s reelection.”

    Again, Joe successfully ran against the entire might of the DNC in the primary and only lost by two points despite being massively outspent from the day the primary was over to GOTV week–when the national Republicans freaked and poured in a ridiculous amount of resources to save Toomey–in a Republican wave year with the ideal demographics for that year’s wave. How, exactly, is he a “damaged” candidate?

    “Now, if Joe runs for Congress, he can actually be a hero/darling of the party. First of all, the 7th is about the most gerrymandered district in the country. Sestak’s the only Dem capable of taking it back from Meehan (due to fundraising, name recognition, and Joe’s mongol hordes of volunteers). Also, if he decides to help (not sabotage) the St. Leg candidates in the 7th, he could be instrumental in flipping the State House (and earn some genuine bragging rights and party appreciation).”

    The Democratic leadership set up the “Republican tsunami” of 2010 by doing nothing but squabbling over the Heritage Foundation’s ideas on health care from the 1990s for two years. Like it or not, because that midterm was also a census year, the map for the House is going to disproportionately favor Republicans for at least the next four cycles–meaning there is little to no chance of the Democrats retaking the House until that changes. How is having one of the strongest fundraisers and top vote-getters in the state campaign for one of the most junior positions in the chamber a good idea in that environment?

    • David Diano says:

      Daniel-
      Actually, the reason Sestak originally tied a lot stuff into his Navy career was because he had a hard time understanding civilian issues and needed everything explained to him this way. I got that tidbit from former campaign workers who had military background of their own, and were surprised by Sestak’s difficulty in grasping/relating to everything.

      The donors that Joe called who didn’t give are probably all still fans of Joe. I wouldn’t expect any of them to give me the time of day or details of their conversation with Joe. However, intrepid reports interested in digging up a story might.

      My analysis of how Sestak operates behind the scenes is based not only on how Joe behaves, but fundraising in general. The confinement of the donations to a two-week window, with many on the last day is clearly contrived. This entire thing was very carefully and deliberately planned and executed. Even the expenditures stop just before the donations come in. The only thing that went “wrong” with the plan was that I spotted the FEC report a few hours after it posted and broke the story to PoliticsPA and Philly Inquirer. This probably spoiled whatever news rollout he had planned, and leaving him unprepared for an influx of reporters.

      Joe won against Specter because of old scores some Dems wanted to settle with Specter, using the “we can’t trust him” strategy. But, Sestak lost both debates against Toomey and blew millions of dollars painting himself as a progressive liberal (who could’t pivot back to the center).

      Being the “top voter getter that year’ is just spin, because there were only two statewide races, Senate and Gov. , and Onorato was a weak candidate. Joe was consistently behind Toomey the entire race. Nate Silver pointed out about a month before the race that no Senate candidate as far behind as Sestak was at that point had ever won. Joe did a lot to close the race from 5 points to 2, but there wasn’t enough 3 points to move the race. Joe made an odd move and pumped a large amount of his own money into the campaign for just a few weeks (and took out out just before the election). My guess is that it was to carry the campaign over a hump, or to make donors believe he had more cash-on-hand than he really did.

      Putting Joe into congress is good idea for a lot of reasons (beside the fact he can do a lot less damage there than as Gov.). Flipping the House to give Obama a congress he can work with is a top Dem priority. GOP is very unpopular. The current gap is 33. This is not insurmountable by Dems in a wave year, and Sestak moving it by two would help the country far more if he got the Dems majority control.

      If Joe runs for Gov, he’s just helping Corbett.

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