More than any other state, Pennsylvania has a good shot at changing the balance of power in the U.S. Senate after the 2022 midterm election.
Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement is leaving a rare power vacuum in one of the country’s swingiest swing states, and Cook Political Report analyst Jessica Taylor, who is tracking key Senate races around the country, says that has led to a genuinely unpredictable outcome.
“There are only two states on the map that Republicans hold that Democrats won in the presidential race, and those are Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” she said. “Of those races, Pennsylvania, I think especially given that it’s an open seat, is really the best opportunity that Democrats have to flip a seat.”
Republicans have struggled, over the past two years, to chart a post-Trump political course, but Democrats have also been damaged by inflation and the lasting disruptions of COVID-19. The candidates who emerge from their respective primaries will have an enormous effect on what the general election looks like, Taylor said, but so too will national mood.
It will matter, she said, “where President Biden’s numbers are.”
Scroll down to read about the candidates for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat. This list will be updated as new information surfaces.
Malcolm Kenyatta, 31
Current occupation: State representative
Political history: Community organizer, legislative staffer
Hometown: North Philadelphia
The first openly gay Black man to serve in Pennsylvania’s legislature, Kenyatta says his platform is rooted in his own experience growing up poor in Philly. He wants to reduce or eliminate student loan debt and create free higher education options, raise the federal minimum wage, and impose a wealth tax on people worth $50 million or more, among other things. He’s also the only major Senate candidate who has said he’d support a moratorium on fracking.
Between his graduation from Temple University and his 2018 election to the legislature, Kenyatta worked behind the scenes in city politics and got involved in community activism.
He is a longtime ally of President Joe Biden. While many of his fellow young, urban Pennsylvania progressives supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 race, Kenyatta threw his hat in for Biden early. He became a prominent surrogate for the former vice president, getting significant airtime on cable news throughout the race, and eventually being named a “rising star” in the party during the 2020 DNC, alongside fellow candidate Conor Lamb.
He has struggled to raise money throughout the primary, but has scored a number of notable endorsements, including from the American and Philadelphia Federations of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union of Pennsylvania, and the Working Families Party.
John Fetterman, 52
Current occupation: Lieutenant governor
Political history: Braddock mayor, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2016
Fetterman, former mayor of the small steel town of Braddock, and current Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, has a phrase he has repeated throughout his candidacy for U.S. Senate: “the union way of life is sacred.”
Fetterman, a progressive who wants universal healthcare, legal weed, and an overhauled criminal justice system, is taking a stab at creating the kind of Democratic coalition long thought to be mostly extinct in Pennsylvania: where urban liberals and union workers can find a home under one umbrella.
He’s primarily trying to achieve that through energy policy. Fetterman, who lives across the street from Braddock’s steel mill, has called the tension between ending reliance on fossil fuels and maintaining union energy jobs “a false choice.” He says he supports transitioning away from coal and natural gas, but also says doing it too quickly is unacceptable. A spokesman told WHYY that “we can’t just abandon these people, and tell them to go learn how to code.”
Fetterman has easily led the early Democratic field in both fundraising and spending. Over the course of the primary, he has raised more than $15 million dollars, mostly from small donations. That’s nearly $10 million more than Conor Lamb, the next-best Democratic fundraiser.
Conor Lamb, 37
Current occupation: Congressman (PA-17)
Political history: Assistant U.S. Attorney
Hometown: Mt. Lebanon
The former Marine and federal prosecutor has balked at big-spending proposals like single-payer health care while in Congress, and differed with the progressive wing of his party on sweeping messaging on defunding police and banning fracking, which he said alienated more conservative Democrats and independents.
Lamb is from a tricky district for Democrats, and has walked a fine political line since he flipped the seat blue in a 2018 special election. He retained it just eight months later in the general election, after being drawn into a new district and being forced to run against an incumbent Republican. He was reelected last year in a contest with a Trump-sympathetic opponent.
Lamb was a relatively late entrant to the U.S. Senate race, and while he has enjoyed relatively broad support among establishment Democrats, he has struggled to match Fetterman’s fundraising power and has relied more on large PACs than either of his opponents.
Jeff Bartos, 48
Current occupation: Real estate developer
Political history: 2018 lieutenant governor candidate, longtime GOP fundraiser
Hometown: Lower Merion
Bartos didn’t formally enter electoral politics until 2018, when he joined former state Senator Scott Wagner’s 2018 gubernatorial bid, but he’s no stranger to it.
A longtime fixture in the Pennsylvania real estate scene — former jobs include a stint as a Toll Brothers division president — Bartos has a long history as a GOP committeeperson and fundraiser. After his bid for lieutenant governor, during which he came off as generally affable and pragmatic beside the bombastic Wagner, Bartos was named chair of the state Republican Party’s finance committee.
Bartos has attempted to split the difference between appealing to the wing of his party eager to still ally itself with Donald Trump, and the more moderate wing attempting to distance itself from the former president.
In a video formally announcing his campaign, for instance, Bartos centered his appreciation for small businesses and talked about the nonprofit he co-founded in the midst of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, which raises money to extend forgivable grants to businesses. But he also threw a bone to the former president, noting that he thinks “Trump represented someone listening to millions of Pennsylvanians who felt like no one was fighting for them.”
He has continued to try to strike that balance throughout his campaign. Bartos is not, however, Trump’s chosen candidate. The endorsement went to Sean Parnell, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020 with Trump’s blessing, and has since dropped his bid for Senate (more below), and then to TV doctor Mehmet Oz.
David McCormick, 56
Recent occupation: CEO of Bridgewater Associates
Political history: Held high-ranking positions in the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments under George W. Bush
Hometown: Pittsburgh, though he lived in Fairfield, CT before launching his Senate campaign. McCormick and his wife also own his family’s farm in Bloomsburg, a $13 million condo in Manhattan, a ranch in Colorado, and a condo in Dallas.
McCormick is a native of both Pittsburgh and Bloomsburg. He graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School and served in Iraq during the first Gulf War, worked as a consultant for McKinsey and Co., joined the second Bush administration, then rose to CEO at the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, which manages money for pension and sovereign wealth funds. McCormick stepped down from this post while exploring his run for office.
His father, James McCormick, served as the first and longtime chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His wife, Dina Powell, served in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
After major ad buys and meetings with GOP officials across Pennsylvania, McCormick formally filed paperwork to become a Senate candidate in early January, becoming the last entrant to the race.
Since then, he has spent prodigiously on ads promoting his candidacy and attacking his perceived biggest rival, the similarly big-spending Oz. In April, Donald Trump dealt a blow to McCormick, who had been aggressively courting Trump’s endorsement, when he backed Oz instead.
Kathy Barnette, 49
Current occupation: Political commentator
Political history: Ran unsuccessfully for Congress (PA-04) in 2020
Hometown: Huntingdon Valley
Barnette, a veteran of the U.S. Army reserves who worked in finance before entering politics, is best-known for her crusade to find evidence of fraud in the 2020 election.
After losing badly — and unsurprisingly — to incumbent Democrat Madeleine Dean in a congressional race in deeply blue Montgomery County, Barnette became convinced something had been amiss in the race, and in the election at large, and coordinated with several prominent election fraud evangelists in her efforts to prove those theories.
There’s no evidence of any widespread or significant fraud in the 2020 election. But Barnette’s post-2020 activities have made her prominent in right-wing, Trump-sympathetic circles, and she has become a frequent commentator on far-right shows.
She doesn’t have the personal wealth of Oz or McCormick, and has lagged them in most polls. But with many voters still telling pollsters they’re undecided, Barnette has shown recent signs of a possible resurgence in surveys.
Carla Sands, 60
Current occupation: CEO of investment firm Vintage Capital
Political history: Ambassador to Denmark under Trump, served on Trump’s Economic Advisory Council
Hometown: Camp Hill, though she very recently lived in Los Angeles
Sands put two things front and center in a video announcing her candidacy: her “Christian values and servant’s heart,” and her work and personal relationship with Trump. Her message to Pennsylvania voters is that “our home” — she moved back recently, after selling her Bel-Air, Los Angeles, house for $19.5 million in 2019 — is “overtaxed and overregulated,” and burdened with dwindling jobs, failing schools, and rising crime.
Sands worked as a chiropractor in Pennsylvania, before relocating to California with her late husband. After his death in 2015, she took over his investment company. She supported the former president in 2016 and was a key Trump fundraiser in California, and her support eventually turned into a spot on his Economic Advisory Council, and then an ambassadorship.
She has substantial personal financial resources, but has struggled to build momentum.
Mehmet Oz, 61
Current occupation: Host of nationally syndicated “Dr. Oz Show”
Political history: None
Hometown: Oz and his wife relocated to Pennsylvania from Cliffside Park, NJ in 2020. They bought a house in Huntington Valley, PA in February, and before that, they lived and voted from Oz’s wife’s parents’ house nearby. The couple still owns two New Jersey mansions and two properties in Florida.
Oz, a heart surgeon who has hosted a popular daytime TV show for more than a decade, has no known political background and a tenuous connection to the state he wants to serve in the U.S. Senate. But he does have at least three powerful assets: ready-made fame, the resources to pour millions into his own campaign, and the backing of fellow wealthy TV guy Donald Trump.
Oz has pitched himself as anti-establishment, and has repeatedly said that Washington “took away our freedom” and “tried to kill our spirit and our dignity” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first, one who can reignite our divine spark, bravely fight for freedom, and tell it like it is,” Oz said in an early TV ad, echoing the campaign rhetoric of fellow TV personality-turned-politician Trump. “That’s why I’m running for Senate.”
For years, Oz has had a reputation for promoting alternative medicine — critics have called it quackery — that has, at times, gotten him in hot water. He was called to testify before the Senate in 2014 for promoting dubious weight loss supplements, including pills from one company that the Federal Trade Commission sued, alleging it falsified data.
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” then U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told Oz at that hearing.
The Montgomery County address included in Oz’s statement of candidacy is for a Huntington Valley medical office and supply store connected to his wife’s father, Gerald Lemole, a doctor.
Candidates who have exited the race
Sean Parnell, 39
Current occupation: Author, Fox News contributor
Political history: Ran unsuccessfully for Congress (PA-17) in 2020
Hometown: Ohio Township
Parnell was the GOP candidate who had managed to ally himself most closely with Trump and his voter base, and his announcement in November that he was suspending his campaign delivered a major shakeup to the field.
He stepped back from the Senate bid after losing legal custody of his three children in a messy, public divorce battle that saw his estranged wife testify under oath that he had verbally and physically abused her and the children.
Parnell said he plans to appeal that ruling, but that he “can’t continue with a Senate campaign” because his “focus right now is 100% on my children.”
A former Army Ranger, who earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor while serving in Afghanistan, Parnell has been best-known in recent years for his frequent, consistently Trump-friendly commentary on Fox News. That reputation grew as he launched his 2020 campaign for Congress in one of Pennsylvania’s purplest districts, where he lost narrowly to moderate Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb.
Parnell’s loss didn’t cool Trump’s support. He got a major boost when the former president endorsed him early this September, claiming baselessly that Parnell “got robbed in his congressional run in the Crime of the Century — the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” It’s a claim Parnell also echoed, albeit less explicitly, in calling for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.
Val Arkoosh, 61
Current occupation: Chair of Montgomery County Commissioners
Political history: Ran unsuccessfully for Congress (PA-13, now PA-02) in 2014
Hometown: Springfield Township
Arkoosh, a former practicing physician who now serves as the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, was the only woman running for the Senate seat who had previously held elected office.
She centered health care in her Senate campaign, noting that as a doctor, she has seen radically different health outcomes based on income, race, and gender. A strong abortion rights advocate, she has pushed for federal legislation explicitly enshrining those rights, and was also a prominent Affordable Care Act advocate during her tenure at the National Physicians Alliance, and during her unsuccessful 2014 run for Congress. She says she still thinks adjusting the ACA is the best bet for making health care more affordable.
The county Arkoosh currently leads is Pennsylvania’s second-wealthiest. It has shifted sharply left over the last decade, moving from a bastion of well-off Republicans, to one of similarly comfortable Democrats.
She ran as a relatively middle-of-the-road Democrat, and dropped out of the race in February after lackluster fundraising and failing to make much of a polling dent.
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