Senior Republicans are sounding the alarm about Rep. Lou Barletta’s, R-Pa., struggling Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, fretting that his lackadaisical, disorganized effort will hand a third term to incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
President Trump rallied support for Barletta in a string of Wednesday afternoon tweets. But the congressman is taking fire from Republicans at home and in Washington who worried that he is relying too much on the president to boost his flagging Senate bid. Barletta has been a disappointing fundraiser and been too slow to ramp up a capable statewide campaign operation, his critics charge.
“The sense is, nobody knows what the fuck he’s doing,” a Republican strategist with Pennsylvania ties said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “He’s not really working it hard. It’s a sad thing, because people like Lou.”
“Casey should be vulnerable,” this Republican added. “But Lou is just like a ghost.”
Red flags about Barletta were raised anew after he won the party’s Senate nomination on Tuesday with 63 percent of the vote despite being Trump’s handpicked candidate and enjoying the support of Pennsylvania’s GOP machine. The fourth-term congressman defeated little-known and underfunded state legislator Jim Christiana. Barletta’s camp dismisses the criticism, pointing to Casey receiving only 62,000 more votes than those in the GOP primary combined despite registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 800,000. They also insist that Barletta isn’t running a sluggish Senate bid.
“Lou Barletta is working his ass off to beat Bob Casey in November,” said Jon Anzur, Barletta’s deputy campaign manager, in a statement. “Last quarter, Lou raised $1.3 million, the most he’s ever raised and among the most of any Senate challenger in the country. This week, Lou secured the Republican nomination for the Senate with 63 percent of the vote in his first statewide race. And nowhere in America is the president is more engaged in helping the Republican candidate win than he is with helping Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania.”
The Senate hopeful’s defenders maintain that before the primary he did interviews in every media market in the state and held rallies across the commonwealth.
Yet Barletta has been hampered by lackluster fundraising, raising just over $500,000 in 2017 before boosting that to $1.2 million during the first three months of 2018. The first quarter figure placed him fourth among the Republicans running in competitive Senate contests, but was not enough to calm Republican nerves. Casey has $10 million and counting to burn in an expensive race that probably requires a minimum $20 million to be competitive, and Republicans worry Barletta won’t keep pace as other Senate races remain at the forefront.
“There are six or seven other races that are much more attractive from a fundraising point of view than slogging it out in a state like Pennsylvania,” former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Barletta supporter, told the Washington Examiner. “People tend to like to win states like Montana or North Dakota, which are a lot less expensive than Pennsylvania. I get it. He’s going to have a hard time — he’s got to continue to show that his race is a viable race.”
“I think this race will be one of those races if they don’t fund, they’re going to kick themselves in November for not having funding,” Santorum added, who still believes the race is “winnable” for Barletta.