WASHINGTON – If Katie McGinty runs for Senate, she has at least one big supporter locked down: Bob Brady, Philadelphia's Democratic chairman, said he is "100 percent in her corner" and told her so Wednesday.
"I told her I would support her fully. Honorary campaign manager, anything she needed me to do," Brady, a Democratic Congressman, said. "Whatever I could do, I would help her."
In an interview, he emphatically backed McGinty, Gov. Wolf's chief of staff, as a superior candidate to Joe Sestak, a former Delaware County Congressman who is the only Democrat in the race but who has had a rocky relationship the party establishment. Brady said the vast majority of Pennsylvania Democrats in Congress would prefer McGinty over their former colleague.
"Sestak has a little bit of a track record that's not honorable with a lot of us," Brady said, chiding Sestak for supporting primary challengers against incumbent Democratic House members. In particular, he cited Sestak's support for Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.), who unseated former Rep. Tim Holden in 2012.
"It's his own free thinking ways of doing things. Well, we're free thinking too, and we're free thinking Katie McGinty," Brady said. He added, "I think without question she would win the primary."
He said he spoke to McGinty about the possibility of her running Wednesday, though he cautioned that he doesn't expect her to decide until after Wolf and Harrisburg Republicans resolve their standoff over the state budget.
Several Democratic insiders this week cast doubt on the idea that McGinty would run so soon after taking such a high-profile job with Wolf and with Sestak off to a fund-raising head start.
"I don't think she'll do it," former Gov. Ed Rendell told the Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis. "She'd have to start right now, and I don't think she'd feel good leaving in the middle of the budget."
But he and Brady confirmed that McGinty has spoken to national Democrats about a potential campaign in the race to unseat Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). Brady said officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had even gauged his interest in running – checking with him on three occasions and running a poll – but that he turned them down. "No means no," Brady said.
National Democrats have made moves to patch up their relationship with Sestak, but would seem to still want to have options in what they consider a crucial race, one that could help determine control of the Senate.
The party had tried to recruit Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, but he turned them down, and Brady said they also checked in with former Bucks County Congressman Patrick Murphy, but that he also declined to run.
McGinty, a native Philadelphian and Chester County resident, worked with former Vice President Al Gore and in Rendell's administration, and ran for governor last year but lost in the Democratic primary.
"Katie is focused on working for Governor Tom Wolf to pass a balanced budget that fully funds public education and provides property tax relief for Pennsylvanians," McGinty's former campaign manager, Mike Mikus, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
Brady said the budget should take priority, but that McGinty could still be a viable Senate candidate even if she waits until September or October to launch a run.
"I've heard the rumors that you have," Wolf told the Inquirer's Chris Palmer after a stop in suburban Philadelphia Wednesday, calling McGinty "a really great chief of staff."
A Sestak spokeswoman said "anyone who wants to get in, should get in."
Sestak came within two percentage points of Toomey in 2010 while running in the face of a national Republican wave. But his unorthodox ways and refusal to live by the party playbook have riled many Democratic elites and made them uneasy heading into what they believe should be a strong year for the party in Pennsylvania and in senate races nationwide.
Rendell, however, said people underestimate how hard it could be to top Sestak in a primary. "What he did (in 2010 was pretty remarkable," the former governor said.
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said they don't comment on recruitment, but that "we're confident that we're going to win Pennsylvania and Pat Toomey is undoubtedly one of the most vulnerable Senators in the country."
The only other Democrat who has gotten into the race, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, suspended his campaign Monday, days after the FBI raided city hall offices.