Sestak, Toomey Look for Edge in Southeast Pennsylvania

October 25, 2010 - 4:15 PM

(AP) - Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak dueled for support Monday in the heavily populated swing counties around Philadelphia, seeking an edge as their hotly contested race for U.S. Senate heads into the final full week.

Both Toomey and Sestak said they plan no last-minute surprises in strategy as they launch a sprint to the finish, appearing at multiple events daily around the state aimed at building voter excitement and boosting turnout.

Recent polls have shown a tight race, as the campaigns, business groups, unions and others pour millions of dollars into TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Toomey is leaning heavily on voter dissatisfaction with the pace of economic recovery and the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama.

"It's going to be competitive down to the end," Toomey told reporters after greeting breakfast patrons at Penn's Table restaurant in West Chester. "We're just going to keep working hard and we're going to win the race."

Sestak, who spent the day visiting businesses and greeting commuters in Philadelphia and suburban Bristol, said he is counting on Pennsylvanians' common sense in concluding whose policies can best help the middle class and small business owners through the ragged economy.

"They're not going to be fooled about who's on their side," Sestak said. "At the end of the day, they know who did this damage."

The counties that ring Philadelphia are home to many moderate voters who have played a decisive role in elections in Pennsylvania, a swing state. Recent poll show most independents siding with Toomey, although a Sept. 29 poll by Franklin & Marshall College showed the candidates about even in Philadelphia's suburbs.

Including heavily Democratic Philadelphia, about one in three voters lives in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Tammi Slayton, a registered Democrat from Bristol, said she always votes but hasn't educated herself about the Senate candidates or decided which lever she'll pull. But, she said, she voted for Obama for president in 2008, stands by him and believes he is doing a good job.

"I think he needs more time to fix things that Bush screwed up," said Slayton, 34, a mother and home-care worker for the elderly.

With voters frustrated by the battered economy, Sestak and Toomey have worked to pin the blame on each other and attract independent voters by portraying the other as a partisan extremist out-of-step with mainstream voters.

Sestak, who has backed Obama's key policies, has criticized Toomey as an ally of Wall Street and large corporations whose zeal for tax cutting and deregulation opened the door to the recession and sent U.S. jobs overseas.

Toomey says the economic recovery is stalling because of Obama's economic, health care and energy policies, and says Sestak is unable to help fix the economy because he has no background in business.

The candidates are vying to replace five-term Sen. Arlen Specter, whom Sestak beat in the Democratic primary.

Sestak is a second-term U.S. House member from the Philadelphia suburbs and a former Navy admiral whose 31-year-career included commanding an aircraft battle group in war after Sept. 11, 2001. Toomey is a former investment banker, restaurateur and congressman from the Allentown area who more recently led a Washington-based free-market advocacy group.

Even supporters who came out to see the candidates on Monday don't agree with them on every issue.

Toomey wants to repeal the entire health care law passed in March and opposes the bank bailouts begun under President George W. Bush.

Ted DelGaizo disagrees. But DelGaizo, the president of an engineering firm in Exton who came to see Toomey speak at the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce office in nearby Media, still views Toomey as the anti-liberal who will fight the growth of government.

"I'm dead-set against Joe Sestak," DelGaizo said.

In Bristol, antique store owner Richard Vallejo escorted Sestak from business to business. Although he views the bank bailout that Sestak supported as unnecessary, he believes Sestak has a solid record on education, health care and small business issues that Toomey lacks.

"If he can do that much in Congress, he'll be great in the Senate," Vallejo said.

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Miga reported from West Chester and Media, Pa. Levy also reported from Media.