New democratic Congressional candidate Joe Sestak, who hopes to dethrone Republican incumbent Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, made the requisite Swarthmore stop on Wednesday night to discuss his candidacy. Sestak, speaking in the Cunniff Lecture Hall, spent the first fifteen minutes talking about his background and why he is running, and spent the next fifty taking questions.
Introducing Sestak was Dr. Paul Scoles, Rep. Weldon’s Democratic challenger in 2004. Scoles dropped out of the 2006 race last week as Sestak entered, and immediately endorsed the newcomer. Scoles explained his endorsement of Sestak at the expense of his own campaign to the crowd of Swatties whom he addressed as a candidate weeks ago: “The point was never to get me into Congress. The point is to get Curt Weldon, the guy in there now, out.” Scoles continued by discussing Sestak’s strengths as a candidate. Clarifying why he chose to support Sestak, Socles said “Sestak shares my ideals, and what I think are your ideals.”
The man of the hour then took the stage. He spoke about how he grew up in Springfield, minutes away from Swarthmore. He also spoke about his 31 years of service in the U.S. Navy, retiring in January as a Vice Admiral. In addition, he served as Director of Defense Policy during the Clinton Administration. He pointed out that he is a registered independent, as per his belief that the military has to be completely apolitical.
Sestak then outlined his four point vision for America, each point unified by the notion of security. His campaign is based around the pillars of health security, economic security, education security and defense security. He spoke about each, but due to his military experience, he dwelled the longest on defense security. “I truly believe that Iraq is a tragedy for this nation,” he said.
He expanded on this position during the lengthy question and answer period following his speech. On Iraq, “the Democratic Party must take a different position,” he explained. He argued that the Democratic Party must do less idle critiquing, and form more of an actual plan for exiting the nation. He said that there is no way that 120,000 troops can successfully stabilize Iraq, and that it is time to have a real plan and timetable to bring the troops home.
As Sestak just entered the Congressional race last week, his inexperience was apparent due to the large group of advisers, including Dr. Scoles, seated in the back that Sestak often referenced. In addition, many of those asking Sestak questions found his answers on gay rights (pro-unions, anti-marriage) and abortion (pro-right to choose, with parental consent), something less than satisfactory.
As his campaign is just getting off the ground, Sestak reminded the crowd that his own platform still needs time to be fully defined. Many at Swarthmore will watch Sestak’s platform mature with eager eyes as he heads to a primary showdown with Bryan Lentz, another war veteran who has matched Weldon nearly dollar for dollar in the latest fundraising period. The winner will try to unseat the popular Republican Congressman in November.