2010-03-25 / Local & State

Sestak Tries To Knock Out Political Newcomer

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak is challenging the petition of a political unknown who, like Sestak, is seeking to get his name on May’s Democratic primary ballot to challenge five-term incumbent Arlen Specter.

Sestak’s challenge, filed Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court and state election bureau, said Joseph Vodvarka’s petition does not contain enough valid voter signatures to qualify and should be set aside.

Sestak is a second-term member of Congress and former Navy admiral from the Philadelphia suburbs.

Vodvarka, 66, was a surprise candidate when he filed a petition before last week’s deadline. He has never run for political office and owns a spring manufacturing business in the Pittsburgh area that is run by his sons.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Vodvarka said he was unaware of Sestak’s challenge, but would fight it.

“I definitely will contest this,’’ he said. “I don’t know how you go about doing it, but I definitely will contest it.’’

Vodvarka calls himself “the best friend the working man ever had’’ and said he is running for Senate because he wants to reverse the flow of manufacturing jobs overseas.

With the May 18 primary election just nine weeks away, recent polls have shown Specter with a comfortable lead over Sestak.

A Sestak campaign spokesman would not say whether the campaign views Vodvarka as a threat to siphon away votes.

“We’re sticking to what’s in the petition,’’ said spokesman Jonathon Dworkin.

Specter’s campaign criticized Sestak’s attempt to knock a “regular guy’’ off the ballot as “old style back-room politics as usual’’ – a criticism that sounds like the ones Sestak has leveled at Specter.

Sestak has accused the Republican turned-Democrat of switching his positions on key issues to secure the support of powerful Democrats for his candidacy. Specter is a “flight risk’’ to vote against Democratic issues if elected to a sixth term, Sestak maintains.

Specter switched his party affiliation last April, saying the increasingly conservative GOP dimmed his chances of winning the party’s nomination for a sixth term.

Specter is a centrist who had been endorsed in 2004 by President George W. Bush and this year by President Barack Obama. He has voted with Democratic leaders on major issues in the last 18 months, including the Wall Street bailout, stimulus package, greenhouse gas reduction, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and health care overhaul.

Vodvarka, who was in New York City with his son Wednesday to attend the liquidation auction of a wire-product manufacturer that went out of business, said he does not have a lawyer. His campaign, he said, is being financed by the Social Security checks that he and his wife collect.

“We’re easy pickings, let’s put it that way, for the establishment,’’ he said.

In his challenge, Sestak questions the validity of more than 1,100 of the 2,600-plus signatures that he said Vodvarka filed.

Candidates were required to collect the names, addresses and signatures of at least 2,000 registered Democratic voters in Pennsylvania by last week’s deadline.

But many of the petition signatures filed by Vodvarka belong to unregistered voters or voters who are not registered Democrats, or are not entirely legible or complete, Sestak’s challenge said.

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