His organization, along with the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and dozens of other locals, is spending millions of dollars on mailings, phone banks, and door-to-door canvassing aimed at urging Pennsylvania's union voters to turn out to vote Tuesday.
Sestak told the gathering that Republican Pat Toomey's support for allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market would be destabilizing. Sestak said that "as reasonable as he sounds," Toomey is as extreme as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and tea-party-backed Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell.
In a year marked by frustration and worry over the economy and federal spending, Republican-leaning voters have shown greater intensity and more excitement about voting than Democrats. As a key element of the party's traditional base, labor hopes to make up some of the enthusiasm gap.
Spending nationally by third-party interest groups has tilted about 9 to 1 in the GOP's favor, according to studies by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Wesleyan Media Project, but it is AFSCME that has become the single biggest spender: $90 million nationwide so far.
The union has spent $1.8 million on its persuasion efforts in Pennsylvania, supporting Democrats up and down the ticket.
McEntee, a Philadelphia native, said in an interview that the $90 million is the most the union has ever spent on politics, though it has come close in presidential elections.
"We're the big dogs, not that we brag," McEntee said. "So much is at stake for our members, we felt we had to pull out all the stops."
Last year's $787 billion federal stimulus program included $160 billion to avert layoffs of public-sector employees, many of them represented by AFSCME, and Republican candidates for governor across the nation are targeting employee pensions and benefits. McEntee said a GOP Congress would be a "disaster" for his members.
Toomey, meanwhile, campaigned Tuesday at three rallies in the GOP-trending Pittsburgh suburbs, stressing his core message that cutting taxes and freeing businesses from excessive regulation - not the big-government policies of the Obama administration - would get the economy moving again. Toomey noted that Sestak had supported that administration agenda - the stimulus and the health-care legislation - and said his rival voted in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).
A nightly tracking poll released Tuesday by the (Allentown) Morning Call and Muhlenberg College found Toomey had pulled away again from Sestak, 48 percent to 40 percent, based on a three-day rolling average of interviews with 448 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. But a Reuters-Ipsos poll of 400 likely voters conducted Oct. 22-24 found the race tied at 46 percent, with a margin of error of 4.9 points.
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article includes information from the Associated Press.