Montgomery County Republican Jeff Bartos launched his campaign for U.S. Senate on Monday, emphasizing his work to aid small businesses and pledging to fight for people who believed that former President Donald Trump stood up for them.
A former candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, Bartos, 48, is the most high-profile Republican to enter the Senate race so far, but in a contest that could determine control of the chamber after 2022, he is highly unlikely to be the last.
A real estate developer from Lower Merion and longtime GOP fund-raiser with ties to some of the party’s elite figures in Pennsylvania, Bartos opened his campaign with a video showing him tying on work boots, stressing his roots in Berks and Lancaster Counties, and driving a Chevrolet SUV to meet small-business owners he has helped. His opening pitch centers on his recent work securing more than $3.3 million in forgivable loans to help small businesses get through the coronavirus pandemic.
“When people look around and see their elected officials spending more time attacking each other than attacking the problems that are crippling the community, they get fed up,” Bartos, 48, says in the video. “I looked at that and said, ‘I have to do something about it,’ and you know what? I did.”
Bartos put an even finer point on it in a statement formally announcing his campaign: “Politicians talk. I’m running to get [stuff] done,” he said, using a profanity.
He wears a face mask in his meetings in the video, and elbow bumps the business owners he meets.
Bartos, who has never held public office, has long signaled his intention to run for Senate, and is now one of a number of candidates in a contest that is expected to grow more crowded as members of both parties jockey for the seat currently held by Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who is not seeking reelection. Several more Republicans are seen as potential or likely candidates, including some current or former members of Congress, and others from the business community.
The open seat in a competitive swing state is already one of the most high-profile contests in the country and one of just a handful that could decide which party controls the Senate for the final two year’s of President Joe Biden’s term.
Republicans approach the race as they try to navigate potentially tricky dynamics in the wake of Trump’s presidency. The former president, who has vowed to remain the leading figure in the party, retains intense loyalty from the Republican rank-and-file, but his brand proved toxic to Republicans in suburbs such as the ones Bartos is from.
Bartos nodded toward Trump’s appeal in his opening video.
“When you speak to people across Pennsylvania, they want to know that you hear them and that they’re not forgotten,” Bartos said. “Donald Trump represented someone listening to millions of Pennsylvanians who felt like no one was fighting for them and we cannot go back to the days when elected officials in Washington thought of Pennsylvania as just two cities and a whole lot of farmland in between.”
Bartos owns a real estate development company and was formerly an executive with the homebuilding giant Toll Brothers. He made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2018, as a running mate to Scott Wagner. Bartos last year created the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, which raised money and distributed it in loans to help more than 1,000 small businesses during the pandemic.
“What we’ve seen over the last year is that government continues to step in, time and again, in a way that favors the big companies at the expense of the little companies,” Bartos says in the video. “Who are we as a society if all that’s left when this pandemic is over are giant companies?”
He concludes, “I’m most proud of the fact that In a moment of deep crisis, I rolled up my sleeves and we helped a lot of people.”