THE ISSUE

Katie McGinty’s exit last week as chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf clears the way for her to challenge former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak in next year’s Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. The winner will challenge freshman Republican Pat Toomey.

With some saying that Pennsylvania’s 2016 race could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate under a new president in 2017, voters here will have the good fortune of a solid slate of candidates.

McGinty’s expected run would give Democrats two strong options.

Sestak, 64, is a retired admiral and two-term congressman from suburban Philadelphia who lost to Toomey by only 2 percentage points (or about 80,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast) in 2010 — a year in which Republicans made gains across the state and nation.

Sestak served as President Bill Clinton’s director for defense policy on the National Security Council and  director of the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Related: Desperately seeking someone to challenge Sestak

McGinty, 52, who finished fourth in last year’s Democratic primary for governor, is a former state secretary of environmental protection and former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration.

McGinty is  smart, personable and would be a good complement to a Hillary Clinton bid for president. If elected, both would be firsts: McGinty as Pennsylvania’s first female senator and Clinton as the nation’s first woman in charge of the Oval Office.

Either McGinty or Sestak would represent Democrats well as they seek to unseat Toomey. Either faces a challenge in doing so.

Toomey, 53, is the kind of Republican who tends to succeed in representing Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. He speaks in a soft, moderate tone and is known as a fiscal hawk.

While a favorite of conservatives in 2010 thanks to having served as president of the free-market Club for Growth, Toomey has broken with his party, notably on the regulation of gun purchases.

In 2013, Toomey joined with Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W.Va., in an effort to close a loophole on firearm background checks to include mental health checks and apply the requirement for screening to online and gun-show purchases. This commonsense measure failed in the Senate that year but Toomey and Manchin plan to try again.

Toomey works well with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Early this year, for example, they co-authored a letter to the head of the Democratic National Committee to promote Philadelphia as the site of the party’s 2016 convention.

Their letter — or the merits of the case they made in it touting Philadelphia’s rich history, ample hotel rooms and transportation options — worked.

Philadelphia will host a major-party convention next year, the first time since doing so for the GOP in 2000.

With Pennsylvania serving as a centerpiece of the 2016 campaign, we are fortunate to have qualified candidates ready to compete in or, in McGinty’s case, considering, our U.S. Senate race.

An issues-focused campaign between Toomey and either Sestak or McGinty would be good for Pennsylvania.

And the issues facing our nation are significant: improving U.S. health coverage and reducing its cost, U.S. budget priorities, the federal deficit, counterterrorism and job creation, to name just a few.

Pennsylvania should be well represented on these issues.

And with such a strong field of candidates, we encourage residents to register to vote and start learning about the candidates so they can be fully informed for the 2016 primaries and general election.