WASHINGTON - Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski launched a run for the U.S. Senate on Friday, setting up a Democratic primary against former Rep. Joe Sestak in a race crucial to their party's chances of taking back the Senate in 2016.

Pawlowski pointed to his years leading Pennsylvania's third-largest city.

"I look forward to listening to voters and sharing with them the story of success we've had in Allentown in solving real problems for real people," he said in a release announcing his campaign.

In what is expected to be one of the tightest Senate contests in the country, Pennsylvania Democrats hope a jolt from the presidential race will help them oust Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), though they are unsettled about who their candidate will be.

Pawlowski referred to telling his story four times in the opening seven paragraphs of his announcement.

The city, he said, was struggling when he took over. But after a decade under his watch, it has attracted more than $1 billion in new development and more than 1,000 new jobs, he said. Crime has fallen, and a budget deficit has turned into a surplus, his release said.

Toomey lives just outside Allentown.

Pawlowski ran for governor last year but quickly dropped out of the Democratic primary after struggling to raise money.

Pawlowski's record in Allentown will help, Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick said. But he questioned whether the mayor can "find the resources to get that message out, and can he deliver the message in a way that's going to be attractive?"

Pawlowski "struggled on both those fronts" when running for governor, Borick said.

Pawlowski's release said he planned to spent the majority of his time calling donors to acquire "the resources necessary to compete and win." He has a campaign kickoff event scheduled for Friday in Philadelphia.

Sestak, who narrowly lost to Toomey in 2010, launched his campaign in March.

A number of other Democrats have also been said to be considering a run.

Toomey's campaign called Pawlowski's entry "another indication of how uninspiring Joe Sestak's candidacy is."

Sestak has said that anyone who wants to enter should do so.

A spokesman for the Democrats' national Senate campaign arm wrote that Toomey "is one of the most vulnerable Senators in the country" and that Democrats are confident of beating him.