Jeff Bartos really wants voters in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary to see him as a true son of the state.
The Main Line real estate developer delivers that pitch at most every appearance. His news releases always end with a note about how he was “raised in Berks County” and “has been a Pennsylvania resident his entire life.”
Bartos, 49, is drawing a distinction with three wealthy competitors he derides as “political tourists” with strong ties to other states – David McCormick, Mehmet Oz, and Carla Sands. Those latecomers to the primary have upended the campaign for Bartos, who first ran for Senate in 2017 before dropping out to run for lieutenant governor in 2018.
After losing then, Bartos was widely expected to run for Senate again.
Now, in a shifting Republican landscape, Bartos is attempting to pivot from a traditional chamber-of-commerce message to a more culture-war footing favored by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
What is Jeff Bartos’ background?
Bartos was a Republican committeeman from Merion in 2017 when he ran for his party’s nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Casey. It was his first bid for office and. But he had strong ties to the party and was on the board of an influential political action committee run by Bob Asher of Montgomery County, then a Republican National Committee member.
Bartos left the Senate race when it was clear Trump would back then-U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, whom Casey easily defeated in 2018. Bartos won the four-candidate primary for lieutenant governor that year, making him an unlikely running mate to then-State Sen. Scott Wager, a volatile candidate known for angry outbursts.
By comparison, Bartos came off as wonky and approachable, eager to discuss the economy while urging voters to put aside partisan anger and look for what might unite Pennsylvania.
Gov. Tom Wolf and now-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman easily defeated Wagner and Bartos. But Bartos walked away with statewide name recognition and political contacts for his next run.
What are Jeff Bartos’ top policy priorities?
“Main Street” is a phrase Bartos uses in just about every conversation, a nod to the all-politics-is-local notion that economic issues reveal themselves to voters in daily doses of commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting strain on businesses created a crisis that Bartos greeted as an opportunity.
He founded the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit that raised more than $3 million to provide forgivable loans to small businesses across the state. While elected officials were negotiating controversial ways to mitigate a deadly virus, Bartos was dropping in with business-sustaining cash, creating a hands-on narrative that pays off as a political pitch.
He supports a range of economic and social positions backed by other primary candidates — more drilling for natural gas and the construction of pipelines to transport it, using public school tax dollars to pay for private school tuition, and tighter security for the country’s southern border.
Who is backing Jeff Bartos?
Bartos might have been the Republican with the greatest financial resources if the latecomers hadn’t joined, driving up the cost of competing.
Oz has given his campaign more than $11 million, while McCormick has spent nearly $7 million of his own money, and Sands $3.9 million of her fortune.
Bartos has loaned his campaign a comparatively meager $1.24 million. But in another reflection of his Pennsylvania roots, Bartos has the most in-state donors in the primary.
Bartos also has help from a super PAC, Jobs For Our Future. The group raised $2.6 million in 2020 and 2021, including $1.6 million from his former running mate, Wagner.
What else should I know?
As part of Bartos’ 2018 appeal for comity on the campaign trail, he and his wife became good friends with Fetterman and his wife.
Fetterman is now the front-runner in the Democratic Senate primary, making another Bartos-Fetterman matchup a possibility. And that has produced an odd gap in memory.
Fetterman has said he encouraged Bartos to run for Senate and last year called him “a really great dude that would elevate the conversation in Pennsylvania.”
Bartos, after entering the race last year, said he could not recall Fetterman’s advice.
“It sounds like something he would do,” Bartos said.