Walking up a steep hill this morning past the Plains Twp. Municipal Building, former congressman Joe Sestak huffed and puffed like “the little engine that could.”

Joe Sestak stands outside St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wilkes-Barre not long after starting his walk to Scranton

Joe Sestak stands outside St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wilkes-Barre not long after starting his walk to Scranton. His campaign took the photo


The Democratic Senate candidate, who walked 422 miles across Pennsylvania in March to draw attention to his campaign, reprised his walk today with an 18-mile jaunt on foot from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton as his campaign rolled on, despite formidable opposition from within his own party.
He walks to reflect his book, “Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream,” which highlights his belief that ordinary Americans will do better if the nation encourages a rebirth of manufacturing, small business growth and road and bridge construction and repairs.
“As I say in the first round of my book, trust is the biggest deficit we have in America,” Mr. Sestak, 63, of Delaware County, said by telephone on his walk. “It’s not about party, it’s not about type, it’s about people. And I just think the parties have not been working well … Now I’m making sure I get to the main cities and the rural country roads so that people continue to hear that I’m willing to walk in their shoes, understand their hopes and concerns, have them talk with me … I want them to know it’s about them.”
He called his latest walk “illuminating and liberating.”
In the famed children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” a small train engine volunteers to pull a long train over a tall mountain after larger engines refuse.
The little engine repeats the catchphrase, “I think I can,” throughout the book, successfully convincing itself to pull the train over the mountaintop. The catchphrase conveys the notion that persistence can overcome obstacles.
Mr. Sestak can certainly relate because he’s up against it in this Senate race. Thinking he can’t defeat Republican Sen. Pat Toomey next year, prominent state Democrats like former Gov. Ed Rendell recruited Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff, the former environmental secretary Katie McGinty, to run against Mr. Sestak.
Although John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, a small town outside Pittsburgh, is also seeking the Democratic nomination, Ms. McGinty has sucked up most of the Democratic political oxygen since announcing her candidacy Aug. 4.
In two months, she raised more than $1 million from more than 2,900 donors, more than 2,300 of whom contributed less than $200, her campaign announced Wednesday. Clearly, the campaign means to show she’s the people’s candidate.
Mr. Sestak did not announce his totals yet, though he had $2.1 million banked as of June 30.
Ms. McGinty has clearly turned Mr. Sestak into the underdog, though he refuses to call himself that and the only recent poll matching them up actually had him up 3 points (16 percent-13 percent with 66 percent undecided).
For now, Ms. McGinty looks like the large engine that decided it could, too, even though she lost her only election bid, a run for governor last year.
Mr. Sestak sloughed off Ms. McGinty’s challenge, as he usually does, saying anyone can run.
“The party went through seven candidates and they finally got somebody. If the party wanted to control their candidate, I’m not the guy,” he said. “I think anybody that wants to get in should get in. But I got in for people.”
In a year when establishment presidential candidates face tough challengers, Mr. Sestak’s status as an outsider can only help his chances.
He reminded me that he defeated a longtime Republican congressman, Curt Weldon, in his first election race, in a Republican district, something few thought he could do. He easily won re-election, then ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
The Democratic powers-that-be aligned themselves with Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter, and he beat Mr. Specter in the primary.
In the general election, he lost to Mr. Toomey by 2 percentage points in a year that Republicans all over the country dominated and Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett won the governor’s office by 9 points.
“This people focus, if that’s called underdog because I’m a people’s candidate, call me that. I think that’s fine,” Mr. Sestak said.
— BORYS KRAWCZENIUK