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A new group is backing Lou Barletta and attacking Bill McSwain as ‘Pat Toomey’s puppet’

The group's website depicts a puppeteer controlling McSwain, a GOP candidate for Pennsylvania governor, with strings attached to a cross that says: “Property of Pat Toomey.”

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

It’s no secret that Sen. Pat Toomey fell out of favor with GOP voters after he voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial over the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

He’s retiring after his second term ends in January, but now his criticism of Trump is seen as a potential political liability for other Republicans seeking statewide office. Or at least that appears to be the thinking behind a new political group attacking Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain as “Pat Toomey’s puppet.”

Records show the group, which calls itself the 1776 Project Committee, hopes the attacks will benefit McSwain rival Lou Barletta, a former congressman and staunch Trump ally.

The committee’s website depicts a puppeteer controlling McSwain with strings attached to a cross that says: “Property of Pat Toomey.”

“Tell Bill that Pennsylvania needs a Governor who is puppet to No One,” the website says, asking people to sign a petition.

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The site links to news articles about Toomey’s impeachment vote and Trump’s criticism of the senator.

It doesn’t elaborate on McSwain’s ties to Toomey, who as a senior party figure has supported lots of Pennsylvania Republicans over the years, including Barletta’s 2018 Senate bid. Some of McSwain’s top aides — including campaign manager James Fitzpatrick and strategist Peter Towey — previously worked for Toomey. (Fitzpatrick served on Trump’s 2020 campaign, and Towey worked for a Trump super PAC.)

The group also created a Twitter account and sent text messages urging people to “say ‘No!’ to Bill McSwain and Pat Toomey,” according to a screenshot of one such text.

McSwain, a former U.S. attorney, has noted in debates that Trump nominated him for the position.

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The 1776 Project Committee formed earlier this month and is planning to make independent expenditures to support Barletta in the governor’s race, according to records filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The group is chaired by Rick Thompson, a Georgia-based political consultant. Its treasurer, Jason Boles, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The committee is affiliated with a nonprofit called 1776 Project Inc., which was incorporated in Pennsylvania earlier this month, according to records filed with the Department of State. As a so-called social welfare group, it’s organized under a section of the tax code that doesn’t require it to reveal its donors.

The sole incorporator works for a Sacramento, Calif.-based document-filing company, and the paperwork doesn’t list anyone else affiliated with the group. The incorporator, Frances Severe, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spokespeople for McSwain and Barletta’s campaigns declined to comment. Toomey’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.