WILKES-BARRE — Following a chat with President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.
Barletta said Wednesday that he received a call from the president Monday evening to discuss Barletta entering the race for the Republican nomination. If successful, Barletta would then square off against fellow Northeastern Pennsylvanian Sen. Bob Casey, who would be seeking his third term in the Senate in 2018.
“I spoke with the president Monday night, and I’ve been encouraged to run for the Senate,” Barletta said. “I’m going to discuss this with my family and then decide what my next step will be.”
Barletta, 61, of Hazleton, won his fourth two-year term to the House of Representatives in November. He would be up for re-election in 2018, but would have to forgo that to run for the Senate.
“There’s a lot to consider here,” Barletta said. “It’s not something you just say yes to.”
Barletta said prior to receiving the call from Trump, he has been encouraged to run for the Senate by constituents in the 11th Congressional District.
“Especially after the last election when Trump did so well,” Barletta said.
Barletta said he was both shocked and honored to get the call from Trump.
“We did discuss it,” Barletta said. “The president thinks I could win. Like I said, I have a lot to consider. That’s where I’m at right now.”
Barletta said he has no timetable to make a decision.
“Obviously, this is a very big decision,” he said.
Casey’s campaign responds
Max Steele, senior communications adviser for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, issued a brief statement in response to the news that Barletta may enter the race.
“This week Congressman Barletta announced he was breaking his promise to protect Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions and would support the new health care law that will take away insurance from millions of Americans. Now he’s asking for a promotion?,” Steele said. “If Congressman Barletta thinks his record of supporting increased premiums for seniors and the privatization of Social Security is what Pennsylvanians are looking for in a senator, he’s in for a rude awakening.”
Story hits the national wire
According to an Associated Press story, 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.
The AP story noted that 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, the AP story stated.
After serving as mayor of Hazleton, Barletta, after a couple of unsuccessful runs, defeated incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski in 2010. While mayor, Barletta 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. Others in the race include Republican real estate investor Jeffrey Bartos, Republican state Reps. Rick Saccone and Jim Christiana, Republican Andrew Shecktor, and Libertarian Dale Kerns.
As Casey moves to seek a third six-year term in next year’s election, Democrats maintain a 4-to-3 ratio registration edge over Republicans statewide, giving him a built-in advantage. However, Trump managed to win the state, including several Democratic strongholds, like Luzerne County, where he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 26,000 votes. In winning Pennsylvania, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to capture the state.
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.
The AP story noted that Casey has been in statewide public office for more than two decades, and has been popular with labor unions. Casey 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, the AP story said.
Barletta knows a senate race would be expensive, as evidenced by last fall’s U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania, won by Republican incumbent Pat Toomey over Katie McGinty, with spending passing $160 million in the two-year cycle.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle. The Associated Press contributed to this story.