Katie McGinty's first-ever election victory turned out to be a big one.
Gov. Wolf's former chief-of-staff won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate by around 10 percentage points – more than pollsters and even her most bullish supporters forecasted in the run up to primary day.
Her victory pays off part of the big bet national Democrats -- including President Obama -- placed on the unproven candidate. Now comes the second part: proving she was the right choice to take a winnable, but likely tough race against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Here are five additional thoughts on the outcome, McGinty's match-up with Toomey, Sestak's legacy and the big results for Braddock Mayor John Fetterman as we look back at the primary and ahead to one of the most closely-watched Senate races in the country.
The Fetterman effect?
Along with McGinty's margin, the other big surprise of the night was Braddock Mayor John Fetterman's showing (though his aides will tell you they felt the energy building all along).
The mayor captured outsized media attention and intrigued party insiders, but when he struggled to raise money and polled in the single digits, many reporters and analysts dismissed him.
He far exceeded expectations with 20 percent of the vote on a shoestring budget – and may have badly hurt Sestak.
They appealed, after all, to some of the same kind of voters: liberals who rejected pragmatic establishment politics. Internally, Sestak's allies had predicted that anything better than 15 percent for Fetterman would be lethal, according to one of the former congressman's backers. A McGinty supporter also attributed the big final margin, in part, to Fetterman's better-than-expected performance.
A Franklin & Marshall poll in April had Fetterman with only 8 percent. He beat that by 12. Elections are never so simple that you can assume all of Fetterman's growth was carved out of Sestak's hide, but if even much of that 12 percent had shifted, Sestak could have made the race the close contest widely expected.
Fetterman's strength was most notable in his home county, Allegheny, where he finished first with a whopping 45 percent of the vote. Sestak took only 20 percent there, finishing third.
Fetterman disputed the idea that he hurt Sestak any more than McGinty – "we took votes from Pennsylvania," he said – adding that Sestak had a lead, millions of dollars and years of campaigning with which to secure support.
We'll have more on Fetterman's candidacy and future later today.
The Philadelphia factor
When Sestak upset the Democratic establishment and won the Senate nomination in 2010, he gave much of the credit to the big support he got from African-Americans in Philadelphia.
The tables turned this time. McGinty, a Wayne resident who grew up in Northeast Philly, won the city by more than 46,500 votes – nearly one-third of her total margin. She worked the city hard.
Sestak still made his traditional visits to black churches – but it was no match for a barrage of ads featuring Obama's voice praising McGinty.
McGinty's next challenge
Even as McGinty gained momentum, her allies worried that many voters still didn't know who she was. Having never held public office, she had no natural political base, and her endorsements cut both ways.
Backing from the White House and top Senators gave McGinty instant credibility, but also meant that when she campaigned with Vice President Biden or Sen. Bob Casey or showed up as a guest at a labor event, she often seemed like a supporting player in her own race, rather than the star.
Her challenge now is to spread her story – mother of three who rose from blue collar Philadelphia roots and truly cares about the middle class – before Republicans can make their version stick: liberal bureaucrat who used the revolving door to flip from government work to high-paying corporate jobs.
The problem for McGinty is that she just came through a costly primary that will leave her campaign fund depleted, while Toomey sits on more than $9 million.
Mitt Romney faced the same problem after the GOP presidential primary in 2012 – giving the Obama campaign the chance to tar him as a plutocrat. He never got out from under that label.
"We're going to have a very robust discussion about the things that Katie McGinty has done," Toomey said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.
Independent Democratic groups are hoping to fill the breach. Senate Majority PAC lined up its own attack Wednesday casting Toomey as a Wall Street ally who votes in the interest of the wealthy, not average voters. The race is on to define the rivals before they truly face off.
Spend any time with Toomey, and one thing is obvious: the man is a careful planner who likes to have everything laid out just so. When I asked him last year about a tree house he built, Toomey sketched out a detailed diagram in response, and sent it through his staff.
Analysts and operatives in both parties say Toomey prepared well for 2016, building a substantial campaign fund and taking moderate stands on a few high-profile issues, most notably his support for more background checks on gun purchases.
But no one could have planned for Donald Trump or for a Supreme Court nomination fight taking center stage in the national debate. Both could create problems for Toomey in a moderate state that tilts blue in presidential years.
He voted for Ted Cruz Tuesday -- and said Wednesday he is running his own race -- but the night's primary results make it seem likely Toomey will be running with Trump atop the ticket this fall, and the New York billionaire has proven hard to ignore.
McGinty certainly won't.
Seven times her prepared victory speech referred to "Trump and Toomey" or the "Trump-Toomey" ticket. As in: "Toomey and Trump would repeal the Affordable Care Act and return us to a time when insurance companies called the shots." Or: "We're getting a taste of what the Toomey-Trump team would do right now as they lead an unprecedented obstruction of the Supreme Court."
Democrats are eager to hang Trump's name around the neck of every Republican they can. And if the names work alliteratively, all the better for them.
Sestak's maverick run in political life appeared to end with his second loss in a Senate race.
On paper, he's a stellar candidate: Naval academy, three-star admiral, service in Iraq and Afghanistan, White House national security council, two-term Congressman.
But he never got along with party leaders, and while Sestak wore that fissure as a badge of honor, it cost him. If party insiders were going to expend resources on a critical race, they wanted a nominee who would take their input – and sometimes direction – along with their money.
Sestak made clear he wouldn't do that – and says the party apparatus cut off his donor network. Washington Democrats and their allies spent $4.5 million to lift McGinty over Sestak.
So much of politics comes down to balancing ideals with sometimes ugly realities to reach imperfect but workable results. That goes for governing and campaigning both.
Sestak's uncompromising approach won him a loyal following – he played "My Way" as he finished his concession speech -- but the party apparatus is also part of the game. Its power is perhaps diminished, but it still has some muscle to shape races, as this primary showed.