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Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Joe Sestak (l) and U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, of Maryland. (Photos: Sestak/chicabrandita/flickr/cc; Edwards/Edward Kimmel/flickr/cc)

The Other Anti-Establishment Candidates to Watch on Tuesday

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, outsider candidates are "united by powerful Democratic leaders' attempts to keep them out of the Senate"

"Super Tuesday No. 4" pits anti-establishment energy against Democratic Party insider status.

And no, we're not (just) talking about the dynamic between presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

U.S. Senate primaries in Maryland and Pennsylvania on Tuesday also feature outsider challengers who are giving Democratic establishment candidates a run for their money.

"Joe Sestak and Rep. Donna Edwards don’t appear to have much in common," Politico wrote on Tuesday. "One's a white, former Navy admiral from the Pennsylvania suburbs, the other an African-American single mother from Prince George's County, Maryland."

"But this week they are united by powerful Democratic leaders' attempts both back home and in Washington to keep them out of the Senate," Politico continued.

Sestak's leading opponent in his quest to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is Katie McGinty, a former chief of staff to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. While she's never held elected office, she's "long been part of the Democratic political scene," the Atlantic noted, and she's racked up a long list of establishment endorsements.

Sestak, a former U.S. congressman who has taken a stronger stance than McGinty on issues like fracking and did well in a straw poll of progressive Pennsylvania activists in February, has said that he is fighting "for the soul of the Democratic Party," and that political party leaders "aren't in it for people any longer, they're in it for power and themselves."

(For what it's worth, a third, "Bernie-inspired" candidate—Braddock mayor John Fetterman—has been running against Sestak and McGinty on a platform very similar to Sanders'. He's polling at about 15 percent.)

No wonder, then, that "Senate Democrats and the White House have invested an unusual amount of effort in Pennsylvania to help McGinty," as Politico reported.

The Hill explained last month that Sestak "riled party leaders by running and successfully winning against then-Sen. Arlen Specter (D) in 2010. He then lost to Toomey by 2 points in the general election."

But Sestak doesn't seem to mind. In fact, when sitting Sen. Bob Casey endorsed McGinty in March, Sestak declared in a news release: "I have had no politician's endorsement in this campaign. With Bob Casey's endorsement of my primary opponent today, it completes an all-inclusive rejection by Washington D.C.'s and Pennsylvania's Democratic politicians of what I believe in, and stand for."

Indeed, that could work in his favor. As the Atlantic adds,

some Pennsylvania observers think [Sestak's] positioning could be a positive among Democrats in this outsider-favored primary. “This worked for him in 2010, and the conditions are even better” now, a Wilkes University political science professor told The (Allentown) Morning Call in March. Sestak came within 80,000 votes of winning in 2010. “There's a sense across the country—and we'll see shortly to what extent in Pennsylvania—that voters are unhappy with the status quo.”

Polls released Monday had McGinty up by several percentage points, though a survey late last week had Sestak ahead by nine points. 

Meanwhile, the fight in Maryland between Edwards and Rep. Chris Van Hollen to replace Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in congressional history, has intensified over recent weeks. 

The Washington Post said on Tuesday that the primary race "has exposed deep racial, gender and class divisions within the Maryland Democratic Party." 

"The race has been close and contentious for months," wrote reporter Rachel Weiner, "as two members of Congress sacrificed their safe seats to reach for the Senate and stake a claim to the progressive vote in the heavily Democratic state."

Politico reports that "Much of Maryland's political establishment has backed Van Hollen."

But the Wall Street Journal spoke to a campaign spokesman who noted that "Edwards has backing from what he calls a 'new generation of young African-American leaders.' Among them are activists and elected officials in Baltimore, a battleground given that the candidates are far ahead on their respective home turf."

According to the Post:

[Edwards'] campaign volunteers and supporters see Van Hollen as the anointed candidate of party leadership while Edwards has not been given fair consideration, they said.

[...] For Edwards, the lack of support from party leaders is not a disadvantage but a badge of honor. Her own political rise as an outsider to machine politics and brand of independence is what endears her to constituents, she said.

On Monday, The Intercept noted the candidates' divergent records on Israel and Palestine, highlighting how one pro-Israel billionaire has spent $100,000 to attack Edwards. "[O]n Israel and the Palestinians, Edwards has significantly departed from the status quo in votes and statements in ways that her opponent has not," stated journalist Zaid Jilani.

For example, Jilani wrote:

Following the 2010 deaths of activists aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the territory under Israeli blockade, Israeli officials and right-wing supporters of the government there denied that there was a growing humanitarian crisis in the territory.

“I think all international institutions have acknowledged a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Edwards told me at the time. “I have long said that I don’t think the blockade is really sustainable for the people of Gaza.” Van Hollen’s statement on the event — highlighted on AIPAC’s website — was more muted; it did not condemn the embargo but affirmed that the “U.S. must also continue to make sure humanitarian assistance is able to reach the people of Gaza.”

While recent polls have placed Van Hollen ahead of Edwards, RealClearPolitics wrote on Monday that "most expect Tuesday's outcome will be razor close, with an array of factors that could tip the scales for either candidate."

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