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Can Trump visit for Lou Barletta jump-start Pa. Senate race? | John Baer

President Trump's headed to the home region of Lou Barletta and Bob Casey in an effort to help the former and hurt the latter. Will he?

President Trump is coming to Pa. to boost GOP Senate chances.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Trump is coming to Pa. to boost GOP Senate chances.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)Read more-- AP

President Trump's visit to Pennsylvania on Thursday will feature an evening rally in Wilkes-Barre for GOP Senate candidate Lou Barletta.

It's scheduled in the Mohegan Sun Arena, a hockey venue for the Pittsburgh Penguins' minor-league team the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Expect lots of checking.

As in heavy hockey-style checking of incumbent Sen. Bob Casey. And, as always, post-event fact-checking of the president's remarks.

Also, the arena sits on Casey Plaza, named in honor of Gov. Bob Casey, the senator's late father, who helped get state funding for the facility.

So, don't be surprised if a gesturing Trump, praising the people and the place, says something like: "This is what Casey Sr. did. What has Junior ever done?"

After all, Trump's already labeled Casey "a do-nothing senator who only shows up at election time."

(At a recent Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, Casey offered examples of what he's done legislatively for the disabled, women, and infrastructure.)

But Barletta trails Casey badly in money and known independent polling. Barletta's challenge is viewed as a long shot.

Can Trump's appearance in Barletta's home region really make a difference? State Republicans think so.

"Oh, it makes a big difference," says GOP state chairman Val DiGiorgio, "especially in those Northeastern Pennsylvania counties where Trump did so well."

In 2016, he won 12 of 14 northeastern counties by large margins, and narrowly lost the two others.

The event is also a Barletta fund-raiser. DiGiorgio says, "I won't be surprised if it raises $1 million." And it comes on the heels of Vice President Pence's Philly fund-raiser for Barletta last week, which DiGiorgio says raised "at least $300,000."

(Campaign finance reports at the end of June showed Casey with nearly $10 million, Barletta with $1.5 million.)

Wait, isn't this just Trump payback for Barletta's early and steady support?

"The president doesn't fly Air Force One in anywhere that doesn't have a serious race with a serious opportunity," says Barletta spokesperson Matt Beynon. "And the back-to-back Pence/Trump visits show this is serious."


Trump has a stake here. He encouraged Barletta, a four-term congressman and former Hazleton mayor who shares his fervor for hard-line immigration policies, to run. And Barletta was a Pennsylvania cochairman for Trump.

But what does a Trump endorsement/appearance do?

So far, produce mixed results.

It's meant plenty in most Republican primaries, including helping Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp snag a come-from-behind win last week over a sitting GOP-backed lieutenant governor in Georgia's gubernatorial primary.

But when it comes to R-vs.-D elections, it's been slim pickings.

Trump endorsed Republican State Rep. Rick Saccone, who lost a special Western Pennsylvania congressional election back in March to now-U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb.

Last year, Trump backed two Alabama losers. First, he endorsed incumbent GOP Sen. Luther Strange, appointed to replace former senator and now-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Strange lost a primary to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Trump then endorsed Moore, who lost a special election to now-Sen. Doug Jones.

Trump also endorsed former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie for governor of Virginia. He lost last year.

But a Trump-endorsed candidate won in Georgia. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel won a special congressional election last year, retaining a GOP seat in suburban Atlanta that Republicans held for decades.

So far this year, Trump's endorsed dozens of candidates, Barletta included.

One measure of whether this one's just payback or We-really-gotta-get-Lou-to-the-Senate will be how much of Trump's Thursday speech focuses on Barletta or Casey.

If there's room for Lou-praise and Casey criticism amid the usual Trump riffs — size of crowd, 2016 win, historic economy, Mueller "witch hunt," horrible media, "fake news," immigrant gangs, build the wall, and, course, "Crooked Hillary" – then maybe Trump's all in.

That can mean more money, return visits, a tightening race.

If it's more like "Lou's a great guy" (and maybe just a Trump nickname for Casey) followed by the ritualistic recitation of embrace-the-base oratory Trump is so famous for? Then it's hard to see how a Senate race with little excitement changes – no matter the size of the crowd.