Pa. Democrats running for U.S. Senate united in efforts to maintain party majority in Congress

Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat is considered one of the most competitive.

By: - August 16, 2021 4:35 pm

(Capital-Star file)

Ferguson Township, Pa. — Democrats vying for the party nomination in the 2022 race to fill one of Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senate seats are taking campaign efforts across the state — united in their efforts to maintain the party’s narrow majority in Washington.

During a weekend stop in Centre County to speak to the local Democratic Committee and promote their platforms, four declared candidates warned voters that Republicans running to fill the seat held by two-term GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will further national political divides by promoting beliefs held by former President Donald Trump.

So far, a handful of Democrats have entered the race, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, of Philadelphia, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh, and most recently, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, representing the 17th District.

Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat is considered one of the most competitive, with some observers predicting it’s likely to flip and others saying it’s too close to call.

Republican candidates include Kathy Barnette, a former congressional candidate; Jeff Bartos, who lost the 2018 race for lieutenant governor; Sean Gale, who’s running on a pro-Trump platform; Sean Parnell, a former Trump critic; and Carla Sands, a former Trump ambassador to Denmark. Though not always supportive of the former president, the GOP candidates have positioned themselves as allies since entering the U.S. Senate race.

“All eyes are on us in 2022. Pennsylvania’s considered the most likely state to flip their U.S. Senate seat,” Arkoosh, 54, said, pausing for applause from a crowd of more than 150 on Saturday. “And you know what? We are going to do that.”

She added: “The folks that are lining up on the Republican side of the aisle to replace Pat Toomey should be of concern to every single Pennsylvanian. They are people who want to continue to divide this country. They want to score cheap political talking points by telling lies.”

Arkoosh, who succeeded current Attorney General Josh Shapiro as chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, is endorsed by the pro-choice women’s group EMILY’s List. She is a public health advocate and a climate activist. Arkoosh also supports raising the minimum wage and investments in infrastructure.

If elected to the U.S. Senate, she would be the first woman to represent Pennsylvania in the seat.

Fetterman, a former mayor of Braddock and unsuccessful 2016 Senate candidate, has positioned himself as a left-of-center populist. He’s been a longtime advocate for legalizing recreational cannabis and a supporter of LGBTQ rights. 

“My core value here, as a candidate and your lieutenant governor, is that I believe Democrats need to vote like Democrats,” Fetterman said.

Known for his social media jabs and debunking unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, the 52-year-old Fetterman said the Republican Party is “willing to lie and to corrode our democracy versus a party that is in control of the presidency, the Senate and the House.”

The lieutenant governor’s U.S. Senate campaign has reported millions of dollars in funds raised, and he’s received endorsements from the United Steelworkers District 10, NORML PAC, an organization dedicated to legalizing cannabis, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.

Lamb, 37, comes from western Pennsylvania, and his recent entry into the race could pose a geographic challenge to Fetterman. A Marine and former prosecutor, he entered the political spotlight in 2018 after winning a special election in a district Trump won in 2016. Often positioning himself as moderate, Lamb has taken a more aggressive tone and attacked Trump in the months leading up to and after the 2020 election.

Of the GOP candidates, Lamb said: “They are lying about the results of our last election still. They are still trying to overturn it in our state, in Arizona, in many states across this country. They are lying about the only violent attack on our Capitol since the War of 1812.”

Lamb, who was at the U.S. Capitol when rioters stormed the complex in an attempt to derail the certification of the 2020 election, garnered attention for remarks he gave on the U.S. House floor, saying that objections to Pennsylvania’s results weren’t rooted in fact.

“This is what we’re up against in 2022,” he said on Saturday. “They’re not doing this because they’re out of good ideas. They are out of good ideas, but they’re doing this because this is a violent and desperate grasp at power at the heart of the Republican Party.

Kenyatta, a 31-year-old gay, Black man from Philadelphia, has been a vocal opponent to false claims that Pennsylvania elections are littered with fraud, as well as legislation that proposes tighter voter ID requirements. When he announced his U.S. Senate campaign earlier this year, he promoted a higher minimum wage, student debt relief, and clean energy.

He’s also secured a series of endorsements, including the American Federation of Teachers, a union representing teachers in urban school districts, and the Working Families Party, a progressive third party in Philly city politics.

Kenyatta is the first openly gay Black man to be elected to the Pennsylvania House, and he would break similar ground if elected to the U.S. Senate in 2022.

“Not one Democrat is going to come here and say, ‘Let’s do another field trip to the Capitol to try to stop the peaceful transfer of power,’” Kenyatta said. He added that “most” of the Democratic candidates — if they were ultimately elected — would vote “pretty much the way you would want them to.”

Though promoting his candidacy, he added: We have a bunch of good folks running for Senate, not just me. Because if I lose, I’ll be back here saying you should vote for them.”

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