The Other Joe
CLIVE, Iowa — When most voters hear about a “Joe” that is running for president, they immediately think of the former Vice President, Joe Biden. However, people may be surprised to learn that another “Joe” is running for president as well – that is, Joe Sestak, the former 3-Star Navy Admiral and two-term congressman from Pennsylvania.
Despite placing last among Democratic presidential hopefuls in an August poll by Monmouth University of likely Iowa caucus-goers, Sestak has traversed the state, giving the pitch for his candidacy at meetings of local Democrats.1
I was curious to see Sestak’s stump speech for myself, and so I traveled to a regular meeting of the Southeast Dallas County Democrats to hear him make the case for his candidacy. An audience of roughly twenty local Democrats and workers from other presidential campaigns were present and listened to Sestak as he explained his background, the core themes of his campaign, and his credentials for the presidency.
Sestak’s speech is filled with stories of his time in the U.S. Navy. When serving during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Admiral Joe was placed in command of thousands of U.S. sailors as well as tens of U.S. ships and aircraft, and his interactions with U.S. personnel taught him about the promise of America. For instance, he recounts in-depth a story of a young female pilot who risked her life in order to assist her fellow Americans during a mission. To Sestak, this woman represents the opportunity of America to provide all its citizens dignity of service.
For some Iowans at the meeting, this was not their first encounter with Sestak. I spoke with an undeclared voter who remembered first listening to Sestak at a small meeting of neighborhood Democrats. The voter recounted how Admiral Sestak’s stories regarding the promise of America brought some people in the audience to tears, including workers of other presidential campaigns.
After returning home from service overseas, Sestak was elected to serve Pennsylvania’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was during his time in Congress that Sestak witnessed what he calls a different kind of “carnage” — the carnage of many Americans who found themselves destitute in the wake of the Great Recession. Sestak claims that the leadership roles he held in both Congress and the military convinced him of the importance of accountable leadership.
Admiral Sestak makes clear to voters that accountability is a core theme of his campaign; in fact, his campaign slogan is “Accountability to America.” Sestak draws a clear contrast with President Trump on this issue: “Unaccountable leadership is responsible for the lack of trust in America today.” He stresses that the country should be accountable to people above party, special interests, or self.
Sestak also makes an electability argument for his candidacy. He notes that he was only the second Democrat to serve in his district since the Civil War. Furthermore, he claimed that despite receiving an “F” rating from the NRA and a 100% voting record from NARAL Pro-Choice America, he was re-elected to Congress by more than 20% in 2009. Sestak calls himself a “pragmatic progressive” and affirms his support for a public option for health care. He also is a proponent of making job-training more accessible to those displaced from their careers.
As the meeting ended, I requested a one-on-one interview with Sestak, who politely accepted. I asked Sestak about the parallels between him and Vice President Biden. Indeed, Joe Sestak is one of two Joes on the campaign trail, and Sestak and Biden share many similarities with each other beyond their first name: both are politicians from Pennsylvania, have had children diagnosed with brain cancer, and argue that the soul of America must be recaptured. However, Sestak is not shy about drawing contrasts with himself and Vice President Biden — he pointed to Biden’s vote in favor of the war in Iraq as an area of disagreement between the two.
According to the Polk County Democrats Facebook page, Sestak recently selected Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” as his addition to a playlist for the upcoming 2019 Steak Fry hosted by the Polk County Democrats. Sestak claims that the song reflects his conception of accountability, saying “accountability matters, when it also might have consequences to you.”
Sestak hopes to spread his message across Iowa, so keep an eye out at your local Democratic party meetings – the other Joe might come your way.