Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb made his long-expected bid for Senate official on Friday, becoming the latest entrant into a crowded primary field.
“I believe this is the most important Senate seat in the country,” Lamb said in a video announcing his decision. “We have to build our majority, and tell the truth about what’s going on in people’s lives.”
Lamb spends much of the video discussing the threats former President Donald Trump and the GOP pose to democracy — and notes that he has won three races after Trump came to campaign for his opponents.
Lamb is set to embark on a statewide tour after a rally in Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon.
With GOP Sen. Pat Toomey retiring, Pennsylvania is seen as the Democratic Party’s best chance to pick up a Senate seat in 2022, when control of the Senate — which is currently 50-50 — will be up for grabs.
Democrats believe they have a strong field of candidates, but first they’ll be pitted against one another. Lamb will face early frontrunner John Fetterman, the state’s progressive lieutenant governor; Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who has the backing of EMILY’s List and hails from the populous Philadelphia suburbs; and progressive state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who represents the city of Philadelphia and would the first openly gay Black senator, and one of the youngest senators ever elected.
Lamb, a Marine veteran and former prosecutor, received national attention for his victory in a staunchly Republican congressional district in a 2018 special election that presaged the 2018 Democratic midterm wave. Since then, he’s won reelection twice in a swing seat. Lamb has often broken with his party, voting against legalizing marijuana and for making the GOP’s 2018 tax cuts permanent.
Much of the early attention on the race will pit Lamb and Fetterman against each other, as they represent opposite ideological ends of the party. While Fetterman has also occasionally broken with the party’s left flank on fracking and other issues, he is likely to suggest that Lamb would be an unreliable vote for President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Lamb, meanwhile, will suggest that Fetterman’s more left-wing approach means Democrats are less likely to win the seat November.
“We won’t win this race on Twitter,” Lamb says in his launch video, perhaps alluding to a common centrist putdown of the party’s progressive wing as overly focused on winning over social media users rather than voters.
While the narrative is likely to focus on Lamb and Fetterman, the financial firepower of EMILY’s List and the makeup of the primary electorate — a majority of voters will be women — make Arkoosh a clear sleeper candidate. Kenyatta has also won endorsements from the state teachers’ union and other progressive groups.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other national Democratic leaders are expected to stay out of the primary.
The GOP field for the seat is still developing. Businessman Jeff Bartos, Army veteran Sean Parnell and former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands are seen as leading candidates.
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