By: Doug Rohanna
The announcement that U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey wouldn’t seek reelection has unsurprisingly created a wide-open field for candidates on both sides of the aisle. And in true Pennsylvania fashion, neither party has a distinct advantage, making it one the most competitive races in the country, with the outcome inevitably helping to decide control of the U.S. Senate.
Democrats expressing interest include the perceived front-runner, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, along with a handful of U.S. Reps., including Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia, Chrissy Houlahan and Madeleine Dean of suburban Philly and Conor Lamb of Pittsburgh. MSNBC-regular state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and state Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia, along with Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, are among others aspiring for the nomination. Although demographically and geographically diverse, the Democratic field is more or less sticking to its progressive-leaning platform.
But for Republicans, the 2022 primary will likely have a lasting effect. Will Pennsylvania Republicans choose a pro-Trump candidate, or will they return to more traditional Republican politics, similar to Senator Toomey?
The answer is unclear. But what is clear is that the list of potential GOP Senate seekers certainly has something for everyone.
As has been widely reported, the Pennsylvania GOP congressional delegation has been a group of Trump loyalists (save Bucks Co. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick), and several members are rumored to be interested in the seat, including U.S. Reps Glenn Thompson, Mike Kelly and Lloyd Smucker. But the two getting the most attention are U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser and fellow U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler. Meuser, a businessman from northeast PA, is said to have enough personal wealth to help fund his own campaign. The young and eager Reschenthaler, from suburban Pittsburgh, served as a Navy JAG and volunteered for duty in Iraq, where he prosecuted terrorists.
Former officials from the Trump administration are reportedly weighing bids. One is Kenneth Braithwaite, a former ambassador to Norway who served as secretary of the Navy under President Trump. Braithwaite, from suburban Philly, is also close to people with ties to Trump, including David Urban, the former 2016 Trump campaign advisor. Carla Sands was his ambassador to Denmark.
Finally, Paul Mango, who is also independently wealthy, has been working for the Trump administration since losing a bid for governor in 2018, first serving as chief of staff to Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator, and then as HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s “principal representative” on Operation Warp Speed. He’s a West Point & Harvard graduate and former 82nd Airborne paratrooper, and has recently found himself in the spotlight after it surfaced that he lobbied Congress on behalf of the Trump administration to deny state governments extra funding for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout last fall.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello is also exploring a run. Costello is from suburban Philadelphia and served in the House from 2015 to 2019. However, he upset many Republicans when he dropped out of the 2018 race after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a new congressional map with districts that were less favorable to Republicans, especially in the Philadelphia suburbs. His seat did flip, by the way (see Democrat U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan), but now Costello is positioning himself as an anti-Trump Republican who could save the GOP in the Philly suburbs.
The “Never Trump” Republicans also may have a candidate in the race. Craig Snyder, a Philadelphia business and political consultant is considering his chances. This wouldn’t be Snyder’s first run for political office. He ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature in 1990, and again for Congress two years later. In 2016, he started a super PAC to support Hillary Clinton, and in the 1990s served as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. He’s calling for a “non-Trump brand of Republicanism.”
Somewhere in the Middle
Jeff Bartos, a soft-spoken Republican from Montgomery County, has signaled that he is likely to formally join the race. In 2017, Bartos announced a challenge to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, but dropped that bid just months later after Trump backed U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta instead. Bartos then set his sights on the lieutenant governor spot, but ultimately lost to John Fetterman in what some called a “polite campaign.”
It has also been widely rumored that former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, who resigned his position on January 22, may also run. McSwain, who is known as an old-school, law-and-order prosecutor, is a former Marine infantry officer and Harvard Law graduate. His tenure as U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of PA was marked by high-profile prosecutions, as well as a very public feud with the ultra-progressive district attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner. And although Trump nominated McSwain, after Krasner accused him of carrying Donald Trump’s water, McSwain responded, “I have never talked to the president.”
What Does it all Mean?
Even the most seasoned political analysts will be speculating how Pennsylvania’s Republican voters will lean in 2022. And the 2020 election isn’t giving us a crystal ball. In fact, despite the Trump loss, the GOP was incredibly successful down-ballot.
But no need to worry about the GOP in the Keystone state. Even if the political rhetoric hasn’t coalesced by next year, nothing unites a party more than a political “enemy.” And the state GOP has that in spades with the Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the majority-Democrat Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
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