By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
He was late to the start line, but Joe Sestak is far from counting himself out of the 2020 presidential race.
Sestak, 67, a longtime Alexandria resident and former Pennsylvania congressman, announced in a video on June 23 that he was joining the pool of Democratic candidates vying for President of the United States.
In most major polls, including those posted by Politico, Real Clear Politics and the New York Times, Sestak either doesn’t make the board or he shows zeros across the charts. He did not qualify for the first three Democratic debates and, as of Tuesday, failed to meet the polling and donor thresholds for the fourth debate in October. While Sestak is far from a frontrunner in the race, he said he’s also far from dropping out.
“We’ll just keep on going, no matter what,” Sestak said. “Look, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle, … but with people falling out, people kind of settling in and coming, we think that we’ll stay no matter what, definitely through [the] Iowa [caucuses] and New Hampshire [primaries], even till Super Tuesday. … I thought it was a hard but credible opportunity to win. I wouldn’t have gotten in if I didn’t.”
Sestak said the primary reason for his candidacy is that he believes he would be a unifying leader and that he has “the depth of global experience to truly understand this world.”
“I honestly do think … that Mr. [incumbent President Donald] Trump should be replaced, be defeated. Nothing personal, I just don’t think that he knows how to approach the world, and I don’t think he has represented the character of America,” Sestak said. “I honestly believe this nation has to have somebody who can actually unite it again.”
Born and raised in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Sestak earned his bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy and his master’s in public administration and Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard University, according to Ballotpedia.
Sestak was elected to Congress in 2006 and represented Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional district from 2007 to 2011. A 31-year U.S. Navy veteran and former three-star admiral, Sestak was the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress at the time, according to his campaign website.
It was during Sestak’s 31 years with the Navy, when he was working at The Pentagon, that he moved to Alexandria to a house on Royal Street. He’s since moved to the Seminary Ridge neighborhood with his wife, Susan, and daughter, Alex.
Sestak said it was his daughter who inspired him to run for Congress. Alex, 18, has fought brain cancer twice, once at 4 years old and again about a year ago.
“I decided to pay back my country by becoming a Democrat, because they were going to work on healthcare,” Sestak said. “… That is so dear to me because of my daughter. We have to fix the Affordable Care Act that this administration has tried to take the legs off.”
Sestak hopes to restore the Affordable Care Act and advance it with a public option to expand access to health insurance, according to his campaign website.
“He has certainly a great position on healthcare,” Sue Goodhart, Sestak’s neighbor and CEO of The Goodhart Group, said. “He’s pretty experienced with having a child who has been ill and has shared that experience with his incredible background in that area as well, so he brings a lot to the table.”
In addition to healthcare, Sestak’s policy priorities include climate change, student debt and labor training, he said.
During his time in Congress, Sestak passed 19 pieces of bipartisan legislation and was named the most productive member of his congressional class by the Majority Leader’s Office, according to his website. He ran for the Senate unsuccessfully in 2010 and again in 2016.
During his military career, Sestak served as director for defense policy on the National Security Council in the White House during the Clinton Administration.
Clarence Tong, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, said Sestak’s experience with foreign affairs could inform a potential presidency.
“I think that his lifetime of service and particularly in the national security and foreign policy areas would be a real asset,” Tong said. “I remember when he was a member of Congress, when he was asked to opine on a whole range of issues. I think he’s had a lot of credibility when it came to national security issues.”
Tong began his career in politics working on Sestak’s first congressional campaign in 2006. Once Sestak was elected, Tong went on to work in his office on Capitol Hill.
“I think that he really valued the relationships that he had with people who are close to him,” Tong said. “I think that people really respond very well to his leadership. …People who have been with him, a lot of those staffers … still stay in touch, even a decade later.”
Tong clarified that his statements do not represent an endorsement of Sestak, as “there’s a number of exceptional 2020 candidates for president on the Democratic side.”
Goodhart said she’s proud that Alexandria has a hometown presidential candidate.
“I think he’s respected by people of all political positions,” Goodhart said. “… Alexandria is a very unique city. It has so much diversity; it’s well educated; it takes care of community members; it’s a wonderful place to live, and I think that the spirit of Alexandria is carried on well with Joe.”
To qualify for the fifth Democratic debate in November, Sestak will need both 165,000 individual donors and to earn either 3 percent in four national polls or 5 percent in two early-state polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, according to a Business Insider article.
To learn more about Sestak, visit www.joesestak.com.