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“It’s pretty obvious that I will stand up to the party anytime when they are wrong,” he said.

To drive home the point, Mr. Sestak talked about how he ran against the wishes of the party leaders in challenging Mr. Specter and that he has voiced opposition to the direction of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But a bright yellow sign in the crowd suggested Mr. Sestak’s voting record could undercut that message in the November election. “97 Percent Voting with Pelosi is Independent?” it read.

The following day, Mr. Sestak pulled his hybrid car up to a church on a North Philadelphia street corner that was once known as “Crack Lane” and “Cocaine Alley.” It was the first stop on a “Jobs and Opportunities” tour, and Mr. Sestak was greeted by a mostly black crowd and a few reporters in a tight room with barred windows and bulging-out walls.

Mr. Sestak called community leaders there to discuss a report showing that only 28 percent of the city’s black males earn high school diplomas.

But the discussion began with Mr. Toomey - namely, his support for President George W. Bush’s failed push to “privatize” Social Security.

Mr. Sestak accused the Republican of “misleading people on his position.”

Mr. Toomey said Mr. Sestak has distorted his record.

“He said he has never talked about or favored privatization of Social Security, but it is in his book, and he has advocated for and voted for taking Social Security and leaving it to Wall Street,” Mr. Sestak said. “He should be straight with voters because now we want accountability for stances of issues.”

He called for more accountability in city schools, including in early education, teacher training and vocational training programs. Members of the crowd nodded their heads.

“We keep the same people in office, and nothing has changed,” one man said. The city’s public education system has “become one of the biggest hustles in America,” another said, eliciting sounds of agreement for the 20 or so people in attendance.

Afterward, Mr. Sestak said the federal government can help improve the city schools and that “we have not had the right kind of accountability to measure our progress.”

“What I intend to do in the Senate is get the right kind of measures for the public money that is being poured in. And that means changing the status quo. If anybody thinks the way we are doing it is working, they’re wrong.”

Mr. Sestak isn’t the only one campaigning against the status quo, though with his party controlling all the reins of government, he’s having a tougher time making the pitch than Mr. Toomey.

“The campaign is going really, really well,” Mr. Toomey told a crowd of about 50 people at the DuBois Diner on Thursday. “I’d like to take full credit for where the campaign is, but I have to admit I think Barack Obama and Joe Sestak deserve as much credit as I do.”

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