Pennsylvania Republicans eyeing a shot at the Senate in 2022 will likely face a primary field stacked with ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump, which may make it difficult to stand out as the contenders try to out-MAGA their opponents.
One potential frontrunner who's already had discussions with state party leaders is Sean Parnell, a former congressional candidate who spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention and is friends with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., Politico reported.
"My friend @SeanParnellUSA is a strong America First conservative and has my support for any office he decided to run for in 2022," Trump Jr. tweeted in February.
Current congressmen Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler — both Trump loyalists — are also possible contenders. Also considering entering the race: Kenneth Braithwaite, who served as Trump’s Secretary of the Navy; Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark; and John Giordano, a member of Trump’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.
Politico noted that Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, donated money for GOP poll watchers at the Philadelphia Convention Center in 2020 and also traveled to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, for a recent GOP donors retreat.
"Donald Trump represented someone listening to millions of Pennsylvanians who felt like no one was fighting for them," Bartos said in a ad released in March.
But not everyone is looking to carry the flag of the former president. Ex-Rep. Ryan Costello, a Trump critic, has also expressed interest in the campaign. And 2020 congressional candidate Kathy Barnette and attorney Sean Gale have announced they will run.
"The way I divide it is you’ve got super-MAGA Trump, Trump-adjacent and not-so-much Trump," Christopher Nicholas, a Pennsylvania-based Republican consultant, said of the GOP field beginning to take shape. "All of the former appointees would obviously be in the super-MAGA-Trump part. A Jeff Bartos, I think, would be in the Trump-adjacent part. A Ryan Costello-type figure, or himself if he gets in, would be in the more not-so-Trumpy part."
And The Philadelphia Inquirer noted the race could have national implications. The newspaper pointed out that the race is one of a handful that may decide control of the Senate. The seat is up for grabs because incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is not seeking reelection.
According to the Inquirer, some in Pennsylvania believe a Republican candidate for Senate will need more than just the endorsement of Trump to win the election.
"I love the president ... but there’s baggage there and a candidate that’s going to just bank on the support of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and nothing else, I think they’re going to have to broaden their appeal." said Jeff Piccola, the Republican chairman in York County.
But earlier this year, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist to Trump, told Politico that "any candidate who wants to win in Pennsylvania in 2022 must be full Trump MAGA."
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