Israel Looms Large in Penn Senate Fight

Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Sestak (D)
Pat Toomey (R) and Joe Sestak (D)

Published September 14, 2010.

Polls

A September 21 poll by CNN/Time found Republican Pat Toomey earning 49% of the vote, five percentage points above his Democrat opponent Rep. Joe Sestak’s 44%. There was a 3.5 point margin of error. The poll showed an increase for Sestak from a September 20 Municipoll conducted for PoliticsPA that found Toomey had 45% and Sestak had 36%.


Biographies

Joe Sestak
Party: Democrat
Age: 58
Religion: Roman Catholic

Sestak, a former naval three-star admiral, has represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House since 2007. He defeated party-switcher and incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary. Before that, he served as the first director of “Deep Blue,” the Navy’s counter-terrorism unit.

Pat Toomey
Party: Republican
Age: 48
Religion: Roman Catholic

Background: From 1999-2005, Toomey represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House. Earlier, he worked in finance in New York and Asia before moving to Pennsylvania to start Rookie’s, a sports bar and eatery. He entered politics in 1994 as a member of the Allentown Government Study Commission.


Issues

Israel

After visiting Israel several times during his military service, Sestak has voted for measures that affirm Israel’s right to self-defense—but right-wing groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition have sponsored ads saying that isn’t enough, because, in part, of his signing a letter criticizing the Gaza blockade. Sestak pledges to preserve the U.S.-Israeli friendship and continue providing military aid. He supports the two-state solution.

Toomey is pro-Israel, though Sestak has noted he has voted down some military funding measures. Toomey says believes the settlement question is an “internal” issue, and condemned Obama for his criticism of settlement growth.

Iran

Sestak lists preventing a nuclear Iran as a priority for securing Israel—and considers the use of force a last resort, but an option nonetheless. Both Sestak and Toomey support increased sanctions on Iran. Toomey has criticized current policies as being “too much carrot and too little stick.”

Iraq and Afghanistan

While he was not in the House at the time, Sestak says he was against the war in Iraq from the outset. He believes that the real focal points for the war against Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Toomey voted to authorize military force in Iraq and supports the Afghanistan surge, though he sees Iran as a bigger threat.

Counter-Terrorism and Civil Liberties

Sestak supported Obama’s goal of closing the facility for accused terrorists in Guantanamo but said he was more concerned about restoring their right to habeas corpus than with prisoner placement. Closing Guantanamo is necessary, he maintains, to prevent Al Qaeda from using it as a propaganda tool. He believes that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other such privacy measures must constantly be reevaluated as terrorist threats grow and change.

Toomey is against the release of Guantanamo inmates, citing security concerns. He thinks Obama’s counter-terrorism measures are too soft. He says alleged terrorists should be treated as “enemy combatants,” and that the government should have a stronger grip on classified information.

Health Care and Social Security

Sestak voted for health care reform and supports adding a public option to the reforms. Sestak wants to ensure Social Security solvency by examining sources of revenue: for example, by redirecting Social Security revenues used for general government expenses back into the Social Security trust fund.

Toomey would repeal the health care reform bill. He advocates private insurance policies and legalizing purchase of interstate policies. Toomey favors partially privatizing the Social Security system by giving younger workers the option of putting some of their Social Security tax funds into a personal account.

Abortion

Sestak is pro-abortion rights and favors embryonic stem-cell research funding. He received the endorsement of NARAL, the abortion rights organization.

Toomey describes himself as pro-life, and has voted for measures such as the ban on partial-birth abortion with the exception of saving the mother’s life.

Gay and Lesbian Rights

Sestak is sponsoring a repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and sponsored the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes that LGBT individuals must be protected from discrimination, inequitable taxing, and inequitable insurance coverage.

Toomey believes marriage is a bond between a man and a woman, and voted yes on the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Islamic Center

Toomey thinks the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero is “provocative,” and should be moved elsewhere out of respect. Sestak affirmed the founders’ right to build it wherever they choose without endorsing the endeavor.


The Campaign

Pat Toomey (R)

Last Report: June 30, 2010

Joe Sestak (D)

Last Report: June 30, 2010

Source: OpenSecrets.org

J Street and the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group co-funded by William Kristol, released warring advertisements about the strength of Sestak’s pro-Israel views: the ECI group criticized his signing a letter calling the Gaza blockade “collective punishment.”


Demographics

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Pennsylvania’s population of 282,000 is 2.3% Jewish, which is approximately the national average. But due to voter turnout and other factors, Jews represent from 4 to 5% of the state’s voting population.



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