HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump is encouraging Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta to challenge Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in next year’s election, a Barletta campaign consultant said Wednesday.
Trump spoke to Barletta about running during a conversation earlier this week, consultant John Brabender said. Barletta, a prominent Trump supporter in Congress, would quickly become the most recognizable name in a field of a half-dozen would-be challengers to Casey, the 56-year-old son of a late ex-governor and a fierce critic of Trump.
Others in Trump’s circle, including David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, have also encouraged Barletta to consider running.
Barletta has supported Trump-backed legislation to overhaul the American health care system and introduced a bill to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to help Trump fulfill a key campaign promise.
Barletta did not respond to an interview request, but he issued a statement through his office that did not mention Trump: “I am being encouraged to run for U.S. Senate and will continue to have conversations with my family to determine my next steps.”
Barletta, 61, is in his fourth term representing a House district that stretches from south-central Pennsylvania’s rolling farms through northeastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields.
Should Barletta run, he could count on strong institutional support, Bossie said.
“I believe if Lou Barletta was to run, conservatives, conservative organizations as well as the Trump organization would coalesce around a Lou Barletta candidacy,” Bossie said.
Elected in the Republican midterm wave of 2010, Barletta had made a name for himself as mayor of Hazleton, where he advanced laws aimed at immigrants in the country illegally.
Barletta is one of a handful of Pennsylvania congressman who have eyed a challenge to Casey, but leading Republican lawmakers have so far demurred.
Casey plans to seek a third six-year term in next year’s election. Democrats’ 4-3 ratio registration edge over Republicans gives him a built-in advantage, although that did not stop Trump from becoming the first Republican since 1988 to capture Pennsylvania’s crucial electoral votes in the presidential race.
Barletta endorsed Trump in the weeks leading up to Pennsylvania’s presidential primary, became a co-chair of Trump’s ultimately successful campaign in the state and served on Trump’s transition team.
Casey, who has been in statewide public office for more than two decades, is popular with labor unions and was a strong supporter of former President Barack Obama’s signature initiatives, including his sweeping health care law and post-recession overhaul of financial-sector regulations.
Casey first ran in 2006 as an opponent of abortion rights and stronger gun laws, but he has moderated those positions and more recently he has voted in line with his party on the issues.
Unseating Casey could be expensive.
Last fall’s U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania, won by Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, smashed U.S. Senate campaign finance records, with spending on it passing $160 million in the two-year cycle.