Two significant shifts in the race to be the Republican nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat have altered the dynamics of that contest, six months before the primary vote for the GOP nomination will take place.
Mehmet Oz, known simply as “Dr. Oz” to millions of television watchers nationwide, announced his candidacy with a Twitter video early last week.
“I’m running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania because America needs a Conservative Republican to cure what’s wrong with Washington,” Oz said in his announcement. “I’m a world-class surgeon, fighter, and health care advocate stepping forward to cure our country’s ills.”
Oz is already peppering his campaign language with more medical metaphors than a doctor has tongue depressors.
This month’s sudden withdrawal of Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell — widely thought to be among the top frontrunners, if not the front runner in the race — left the other remaining candidates scrambling to reassess and pivot towards capturing Parnell’s supporters and funders.
Parnell exited the race after a judge ruled that his ex-wife would gain full-time custody of the pair’s children, a move that appeared to give more weight to her accusations of marital abuse.
“I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I’m devastated by the decision,” Parnell said after the ruling. “My focus right now is 100 percent on my children, and I want them to know I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them.”
The Senate seat, open due to Republican Pat Toomey’s retirement, is among the nine races that the Washington Post has labeled as “potentially competitive,” and an opportunity for a Democratic pickup in a midterm cycle that might otherwise be bleak for the majority party. Pennsylvania’s race is expected to be a key factor in which party ends up with majority control of Congress’ upper chamber going into 2023.
Much like the GOP governor’s race, the field on the Republican side is crowded, with 11 announced candidates thus far, and more expected. Former Rep. Keith Rothfus and hedge fund CEO David McCormick are both expected to enter the race soon.
Here’s a look at the remaining field of announced candidates, starting with those whose campaigns have made the most headway in early polling
Pennsylvania Republicans who were excited about the election of Winsome Sears, a black woman, to be the next lt. governor of Virginia will likely be excited about Montgomery County Republican Kathy Barnette.
“We’re told that Black Lives Matter, except of course, my black life, because I’m a black conservative,” says Barnette in her introduction video.
Like Sears, Barnette is also a veteran, having served in the Army Reserves, according to her campaign website. If elected, she would break two barriers for the state: the first black person and first woman elected to the Senate from the Keystone State.
Barnette ran against Madeleine Dean for the 4th Congressional District seat in 2020. Although she lost in the heavily Democratic district, she outperformed President Trump by about 3 points.
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Bartos carries plenty of statewide name recognition from his 2018 campaign for lt. governor in which he lost to John Fetterman in a favorable electoral climate for Democrats. In that primary election, Bartos made a strong showing as he nearly pulled in a pure majority of Republican votes in a field split between three other candidates.
The real estate developer from Montgomery County was one of the earliest Senate candidates to announce, formally putting his candidacy in place in March.
In recent polling from Franklin & Marshall, Bartos was the clear second choice behind Parnell before he dropped out. It remains to be seen whether Bartos, who went after Parnell early due to allegations of marital abuse, will capitalize on his opponent dropping out.
Sands served as an ambassador to Denmark under President Trump, and also served on his economic advisory council.
Sands has worked as a chiropractor in a family business. In 2015, she took the role of CEO to the Vintage Capital Group, a company owned by her husband who passed away that year.
She also had a brief acting career in the late 1980’s, according to IMDB.
Sean Gale is part of a brotherly duo aiming for a political parlay in 2022. While Sean is running for the Senate, his brother Joe Gale is running for governor. Both are from Montgomery County, where Joe is a county commissioner.
Both Gale campaigns are courting Trump loyalists, and Sean appears to be targeting Bartos to the exclusion of other candidates. Sean Gale is also seeking to translate grassroots anger at the retiring Toomey into votes:
“The Pennsylvania GOP’s refusal to censure lame duck Senator Pat Toomey for voting to convict former President Trump at the Democrat’s bogus impeachment trial is a major red flag to conservatives that the Republican swamp plans to replace Pat Toomey in 2022 with a candidate that is nothing more than Pat Toomey 2.0, like RINO Jeff Bartos,” Gale’s Senate website says.
After these candidates, there is a steep drop-off in name recognition. Polling has been sparse, but in such surveys as have been commissioned, the remaining candidates find little to no support as yet.
Rosenfeld is a former sheriff of Elk County, and has four decades of accounting and tax preparation experience, according to his website. He also touts his experience as a small gun shop owner and certified pistol instructor.
DeBellis is running a classic “outsider” campaign, and as such is making term limits a key part of his platform.
“Sending another career politician to Washington is like spitting in the wind. It won’t get you anything that you stand for,” he says on his campaign website.
As this article was being published, DeBellis’s campaign Twitter account had been suspended.
Stern was also an early entrant, announcing his candidacy in February.
He is the founder and CEO of a private intelligence agency, Tactical Rabbit.
Stern, 36, also gained fame as a whistleblower, exposing money laundering at the London-based bank HSBC. His actions ultimately forced the bank into a $1.92 billion dollar fine. He ran for Senate in 2016 as an independent write-in candidate.
While many Republican candidates are trying to walk a fine line between appealing to the hard-core Trump base and the rest of the party, Stern most certainly is not. His Twitter feed makes reference to “one party being Hijacked by [former national security advisor Michael] Flynn and Trump.”
Hershey, Pa.-based Bobby Jeffries is running a long-shot campaign largely framed around appealing to younger voters. On his Twitter bio he describes himself as, “Author. Speaker. Proud Millennial. Idealist without Illusions. America First.”
On his website, Jeffries goes further, saying, ” My generation and the coming generations have been fed a bunch of nonsense from these progressives. It’s time for us to stand up against their indoctrination in schools, on TV, and the internet.”
While the U.S. Senate already has a Ron Johnson (R – WI), the Ronald Johnson from Oil City wants to be the second. (The Wisconsin Senator has not yet confirmed his re-election plans for 2022.)
“Above all, I am a Pennsylvanian who opposes the corruption of Washington,” Johnson says on his website. “I equally represent all my Pennsylvanians, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”
Hayes is from Hampton Township in Western Pennsylvania, and says he has decades of dealing with federal agencies like the Department of Defense in his time as an engineering and construction contractor.
From those experiences, “I learned about the major issues in the United States and formed solid opinions about the direction I would like to drive it to,” he said on his website. “I found myself intensely involved in the issues and how they would affect the future generations, my kids. I don’t see this country going in the right direction right now, and want to turn it around.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this article placed Sean Gale in the lower tier of candidates who had a “steep drop-off in name recognition,” compared to the upper tier. The article has been edited to place Gale in the upper tier based on this poll from Echelon Insights.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com