It’s a long walk for a long shot. But he’s done longer. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Sestak, a former U.S. representative from Delaware County, will take his signature campaign move — the literal statewide walk — to New Hampshire this month. Moving east to west, he plans to cover about 100 miles over seven days.
In 2015, Sestak walked 422 miles across Pennslyvania to launch his bid for Senate. He lost the primary to party-backed Katie McGinty, who went on to lose to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
This time around, Sestak, 67, a former three-star admiral and national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, faces an even steeper climb. He polls at 1% or lower. He has yet to qualify for a debate. He held his first fund-raiser at a Chinese restaurant in Wayne last month. There was no suggested donation amount.
To the casual political observer, it may be hard to remember he’s running. In the early states where most of the candidates gather for large events, Sestak often speaks toward the end, when most of the crowd has left. (He countered that the people who remain are the real undecided voters and that he’s resonating with them.)
But all that seems as if it could add up to a pretty lonely march for Admiral Joe, right?
“Not at all!" he said in an interview. “Discouraged? Come on. With any kind of exposure we’re going to do all right."
Sestak points out that he’s in ninth place and has been in the presidential race for only three months. He’s done that without any exposure from major cable networks, which haven’t booked him. One has a policy against it, he said, because of his low poll numbers, though he won’t say which.
He’s hoping the walk drums up some press.
“Look, a leader really has to get to know the people," he said. "And understand what they need and what they want and to talk with them. It’s no different than when I was a Navy admiral and the last planes came in from Iraq at 4 in the morning and I’d stay up and go down on mess desks,” to sit and eat with the troops.
Sestak has New Balance sneakers for warmer days and Lands End boots for colder nights. He bought a reflective vest and a headlight. He’ll walk along highways and through towns and cities, and make more than 30 campaign appearances along the way. He’ll stop to stay overnight in motels (at which point he’ll jab a stick in the ground so he can pick up the walk where he left off). He hopes people join him.
On Oct. 15, when 12 Democrats running for president are on the debate stage in Ohio, Sestak will be passing through Windham, N.H. He’ll go to a town hall meeting and then host a live-stream conversation.
Sestak, who campaigned for 60 days straight in Iowa, said he’s staying in the race at least through the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3.
“Oh, beyond that," he said. “Without a question. I’ve got a ways to go."