Sestak, Toomey trade barbs over economy in campaign stops

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In dueling Pittsburgh campaign stops Wednesday, Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate candidates depicted one another as threats to the economy on a day when Republican Pat Toomey released an early barrage of television ads.

Mr. Toomey visited a Neville Island steel plant, arguing that its survival would be threatened by the energy policies supported by his opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware County. A few hours later, Mr. Sestak struck back, calling the Republican a pawn of Wall Street. These are two candidates who profess to have respect for one another, but the barbed tone of the day's rhetoric suggested that amity wouldn't stand in the way of a tough campaign.

After addressing a few dozen employees of Frontier Steel on Neville Island, Mr. Toomey said that, "I'm concerned that if cap-and-trade became law, it would put them out of business."

He referred to the energy bill, passed in the House, which is designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions by making the use of fossil fuels more expensive. Mr. Toomey contended that the proposal, which is now before the Senate, would encourage firms to move manufacturing employment overseas.

"Countries like China and India are not going to inflict that kind of pain on their own industries," he said, contending that the result would be "outsourcing like we've never seen."

John Matig, Frontier Steel's president, said he was concerned not only by the direct costs associated with the energy legislation, but with the effect it would have on customers in the energy and transportation sectors of the economy.

Later during a visit to Allegheny Fabricating & Supplies in Blawnox, Mr. Sestak argued that the Republican's policies and voting record would frustrate job growth while enriching big business.

"Pat Toomey is in the pocket of big oil, and big oil doesn't want alternative energy," the Democrat said, pointing out once again that Mr. Toomey favored drilling in Lake Erie and had supported the deregulation of energy industries while a Lehigh Valley congressman.

"Congressman Toomey is an ideologue -- someone who believes you benefit Wall Street or big corporations rather than working families," Mr. Sestak said.

Mr. Sestak and other supporters of the cap-and-trade measure contend that its costs to consumers would be minimal in the short run and actually save money by lowering energy costs in the longer term. The candidates cited conflicting projections of the employment impact of the legislation -- Mr. Toomey contended that it would cost thousands of Pennsylvania jobs, while Mr. Sestak offered estimates that it would boost employment. Mr. Toomey argued that his opponent's position was to the left of many other Democrats, including five Pennsylvania members of the congressional Blue Dog Coalition who voted against the House version of the bill.

The effort to brand Mr. Sestak as a liberal was a prominent theme of the array of new GOP television commercials that began airing Tuesday. On energy and other issues, including health care reform, the national debt and taxes, the commercials repeatedly link the liberal characterization to the Democratic nominee.

On his stop in Blawnox, Mr. Sestak repeated his customary rebuttal to this now-familiar attack.

"I'm not liberal and I'm not conservative. I'm pragmatic -- it's what I've learned in the United States Navy," the former admiral said. "You look at the facts and you don't make decisions on politics. You look for pragmatic solutions."

Mr. Sestak defended the energy legislation -- claiming it would create 78,000 new jobs in the state by 2020 and provide $100 billion in incentives to the coal industry. He urged the enactment of a 15 percent tax credit for hiring new workers and a 30 percent tax credit for investors in startup firms.

Asked to comment on his rival's new ads, Mr. Sestak said, "Congressman Toomey represents an ideology that failed during the Bush administration. ... I respect Congressman Toomey, but that failed ideology has come and, thank goodness, it's gone."


Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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