NEW YORK — The number of Pennsylvania Republicans running for governor and U.S. Senate just keeps growing, with primaries less than six months away, but candidates in those races are rebranding the crowd as a good sign.

GOP ambitions are soaring, those Republicans said during the gathering of Pennsylvania Society in Manhattan this weekend, because the party is in a strong position to win both seats.

One of them is open because U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican, is not seeking another term.

“People who have thought about this are looking at it and thinking: Is there ever going to be a better time?” Toomey said Saturday.

Much of the cocktail party chatter this year centered on some Republicans in the Senate primary considered to have closer ties to other states, including former Ambassador Carla Sands (California), television doctor Mehmet Oz (New Jersey), or hedge fund leader David McCormick (Connecticut) who is expected to enter the race soon.

Jeff Bartos, a GOP Senate contender from Lower Merion, hit that note while speaking Saturday to the annual Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association seminar, calling himself a lifelong resident of the state.

“Who would have thought that would be a differentiator in this race?” he said, drawing chuckles.

Bartos later told Clout, “I think Pennsylvanians will be incredibly welcoming and open to people who are new to the state. I don’t think they will want them to represent them.”

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, the only Democrat running for the Senate who attended the weekend events, also took note. “You have a couple of high-profile people that do not live in our state and seem to want to launch themselves into Pennsylvania politics from the outside,” Lamb said.

Republicans in both races agreed on one other topic: Nobody wanted to speculate on what former President Donald Trump might do to be a factor in the primaries.

“I would not want to try to predict what the former president would do,” said State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a late entry to the primary for governor who has faced Trump’s wrath at times about the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania. More recently, Corman has been trying to work his way back into Trump’s favor by supporting an examination of the election results.

Stanford administers a dose of truth

Ala Stanford, the pediatric surgeon from North Philadelphia who founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, has become known across the country for her herculean efforts to combat the racial disparities in treatment and outcomes during the coronavirus pandemic.

What she isn’t known for is holding back, and that held true even when she was being honored with the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement at the black-tie dinner that is the centerpiece of the Pennsylvania Society weekend.

Stanford, who lives in Montgomery County, both wowed the well-heeled crowd and highlighted some uncomfortable truths. When she pointed out, for instance, that she is the first Black woman to win the award — past recipients include notable figures with Pennsylvania ties ranging from Dwight Eisenhower and Ed Rendell to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno — the crowd at first erupted in applause before she put that fact in context.

“Honestly, while I appreciate this acknowledgment, I sincerely doubt that I’m the first [Black woman] deserving of this honor, and I sincerely hoped that I won’t be the only one,” she said of the award, which also came with a $25,000 donation to her group.

Her most pointed jab, though, came at the expense of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. Stanford told the audience the story of how, when the city was switching its focus from testing to inoculation, it initially entrusted its largest mass vaccination site not to the consortium but to Philly Fighting COVID. That was the scandal-plagued group led by recent Drexel graduate Andrei Doroshin that was soon taken off the job.

“Unfortunately it went to an inexperienced white male with no medical background at all,” she said. “And when that organization went defunct … all those folks that couldn’t find a second shot, they came to us.”

Stanford also said that her group had received little to no financial support from the city during the height of the pandemic.

“I mention these examples of bias and injustice again so it won’t be repeated,” she said. “So as you honor me today — and I appreciate it — I don’t want you to underestimate how incredibly difficult this has been while trying to save people’s lives and also combat the societal, historic, and present-day barriers that allow these incidences to occur.”

Clout’s Pa. Society notebook

Lamb again tried to cast Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic competitor for the U.S. Senate, as a socialist and warning that the Democratic Party could be harmed by the label. Fetterman has been denying that he is a socialist since his first Senate run in 2016.

Clout hears Kenney was in New York for Pennsylvania Society but was nowhere to be seen at the Saturday night dinner.

Derek Green was the only Philadelphia city councilmember spotted at Pennsylvania Society. Clout hears he is seriously mulling a run for mayor in 2023.

The GOP field for governor grew even larger over the weekend. Former Congresswoman Melissa Hart, who represented the Pittsburgh suburbs from 2001 to 2007, spent the weekend reintroducing herself and unofficially launching her campaign. She’s the only woman in a field of at least 10 men running.