U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta won the Republican primary for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania tonight, besting a lesser-known challenger in Beaver County-based state Rep. Jim Christiana and positioning himself as the Republican Party’s hope for ousting longtime Democratic incumbent Bob Casey come November.
The New York Times called the Republican race tonight with 60 percent of precincts reporting. Casey was unopposed in the Democratic primary and will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot across from Barletta, known for his uncompromising take on subjects like immigration and gun rights.
Whether Barletta can beat Casey in the general election is unclear. If campaign coffers are any indication, he has an uphill battle in front of him. Barletta had $1.6 million on hand compared to Casey’s $10 million in April, The Morning Call reported. Obviously those numbers can and will change.
Even if Barletta can bridge the fundraising gap, Casey’s campaign is a well-worn reelection machine. Casey has won five statewide elections, including two as auditor general and one as state treasurer. He’s also the incumbent.
“For more than a century, the reelection rate for incumbent senators of the party not in the White House is 91 percent,” G. Terry Madonna and Michael L.Young wrote in a February edition of Politically Uncorrected. “Statistically speaking, that makes Barletta’s chances of beating Casey about 9 percent.”
For the record: Barletta has been re-elected as congressman for Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be former 11th District and has served in that office since 2011. But statewide elections are a different animal, one Casey knows better than most, Madonna and Young opine.
Republicans, meanwhile, see Casey’s seat as freshly vulnerable, and Barletta has made a point of portraying Casey as soft on immigration, oppositional toward the president and a lackluster working-class advocate, hoping these points will resonate with voters in a state that Donald Trump won less than two years ago.
Casey’s campaign has called Barletta’s claims absurd and his political brand one built on “fear mongering and scapegoating [of] immigrants.” Indeed, immigration has been a favored subject of Barletta’s during his political career and the subject that has largely come to define him in the public sphere.
Even Christiana, his Republican primary opponent, made a point of criticizing Barletta’s immigration rhetoric. Christiana also critiqued Barletta’s recent vote for a $1.3 trillion government spending bill that Casey also supported, one critics called a deficit-ballooning mistake.
But as this Senate race continues, expect even more of this back-and-forth between Casey and Barletta and expect Trump to weigh in at some point with a fresh and likely more forceful Barletta endorsement — all of this for a seat that Republicans want badly to win and one the Democrats can’t afford to lose.