1st Republican in Pa. Senate Race Talks COVID Response, Matchup With Democratic Friend

Jeff Bartos, a Montgomery County businessman who previously ran for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, spoke with NBC10 about his bona fides and the state of politics in Pennsylvania.

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The first Republican to formally launch his campaign for Pennsylvania's wide-open U.S. Senate race spoke with NBC10 about why he deserves the job, his previous statewide race and a friendship with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Bartos last ran for office as the Republican Party's unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018. He filed the paperwork to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, who will not seek re-election in 2022.

Bartos is a real estate investor and longtime GOP fundraiser.

“It’s time to make sure that the average Pennsylvanian has a fighting chance to live their own American Dream,” he wrote on Twitter in announcing his candidacy earlier this week.

He spoke Thursday by video conference call with NBC10 to discuss why he should be the Republican nominee and revealed what some might consider a surprising friendship with Pennsylvania's Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Fetterman last month announced he is running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat. Both he and Bartos would have to win their primaries in May 2022 if they are to face off in the November general election later next year.

The rarity of an open Senate seat, arguably the most desirable political office in the state because each term is six years and is part of the upper chamber of Congress, has spurred the early candidacies.

Along with Bartos and Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who represents part of Philadelphia in the General Assembly, has also already announced his candidacy.

Like Bartos, both Fetterman and Kenyatta sat down for one-on-one virtual interviews shortly after entering the race.

Pennsylvania Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who represents a part of Philadelphia in the General Assembly, announced his candidacy for the state's U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in 2022. NBC10 reporter Lauren Mayk spoke with Kenyatta about why he should represent Pennsylvania.

Democrats, fresh off President Joe Biden's strong victory over former President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, see the open seat as one of their best chances to swing a Senate seat from red to blue. Toomey is a staunch fiscal conservative who once in a while during his two terms has reached across the aisle on issues like gun control.

John Fetterman, the current Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania, announced on Monday that he's running for the state's U.S. Senate seat. Fetterman spoke with NBC10's Lauren Mayk about his platform.

Still, Toomey is a reliable Republican vote in the Senate, where every one of the 100 seats is crucial to both major political parties' economic, social and diplomatic policies. The upper chamber of Congress is currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

Bartos grew up in Berks County and and now lives in Montgomery County. He has dedicated time over the past year as a co-founder of the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit that raised more than $3 million to distribute as forgivable loans to small businesses in Pennsylvania struggling through the pandemic.

He originally started running for U.S. Senate in 2017 before switching to the lieutenant governor's race after then-U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta joined the Senate race that year with Trump's backing.

Bartos, 48, has longtime connections to GOP campaign donors and political elite through his work fundraising for candidates. He also served briefly as the state party’s finance chair and has the personal wealth to write his campaign a big check.

Toomey announced in October that he would not run again.

The race for the Democratic nomination is already crowded.

Democrats who have not yet formally announced they will run, but are seriously considering it, include Sen. Sharif Street, who is also the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, and U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, Chrissy Houlahan and Conor Lamb.

More than a half-dozen of unknown or first-time candidates from both parties have also filed paperwork to run. Pennsylvania has not elected two Democrats to the Senate since the 1940s, although it did have two Democratic senators for nearly two years after Arlen Specter switched parties in 2009.

Bartos enters the race at time when the Republican Party is divided over Trump and the state party fought almost to a tie over whether to formally censure Toomey for voting to convict Trump in the former president's second impeachment trial last month.

Bartos, who comes from a county that voted decisively against Trump, has said that he voted twice for Trump and supports what he accomplished in office. On Monday, he invoked Trump as a fighter for the forgotten.

“During the Trump Administration, millions of Pennsylvanians who had felt abandoned and forgotten had someone fighting for them in Washington and delivering real results for their communities," Bartos wrote in a statement announcing his candidacy.

Bartos does not suggest that the election was stolen from Trump — Trump maintains baselessly that it was — and has said he believes Trump should have ended his efforts to overturn the outcome several weeks after the election when federal courts were rejecting his legal challenges.

Bartos said on Twitter last week that he supports voter ID laws and ending “no excuse” absentee ballots, a law that Pennsylvania passed in 2019 with near-universal support from Republican lawmakers before Trump began attacking mail-in voting, baselessly, as being rife with fraud.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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