Malcom Kenyatta is crisscrossing the state on a hunt for endorsements — big or small.
Every few weeks, the Democratic state representative’s campaign for U.S. Senate sends out another email announcing he’s got new support from various corners and pockets of Pennsylvania. They’ve ranged from undoubtedly influential endorsements like the left-wing Working Families Party, to more obscure local elected officials. Sometimes they’re just candidates for office themselves, like two running for school board in State College.
Kenyatta, a first-time candidate for statewide office, hopes a growing list of people and organizations will translate into political momentum — which could be especially important for a campaign that may lag the pack in political money. The next quarterly campaign finance filings are due July 15, and Kenyatta had one of the smallest fund-raising hauls last quarter.
“Listen, we may not have the most money this quarter — we’ll see,” Kenyatta said Wednesday. “But what is so damn exciting is the big bold coalition that I’ve said we need to build is growing by the day.”
Brand New Congress, a political action committee founded by former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers, backed Kenyatta this week (Kenyatta endorsed Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary). On Wednesday, Philadelphia’s local union for hospital workers, District 1199C, an affiliate of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, also got on board. So did Philadelphia City Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and Isaiah Thomas.
Kenyatta often collects endorsements much farther from his North Philadelphia district, traveling the state and tweeting photos from supportive local officials. Earlier this month, he was in Centre County. In the spring, he was in Aliquippa and Carlisle.
The 2022 Democratic primary is a long ways away (10 months), and there are a lot of big and small names up for grabs. The impact endorsements have varies widely, and none of this necessarily translates into votes. Early in the race, endorsements provide access to the endorser’s network and can signal support — but message and money matter, too.
Arguably the biggest endorsement in the Democratic primary so far went to Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who last week got the backing of EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women and plays an influential role in Democratic politics. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman launched his campaign with the backing of the United Steelworkers District 10 and NORML PAC, a pro-marijuana legalization group.
For Kenyatta, who isn’t seen as a front-runner like Fetterman, the idea is to show geographic breadth of support to make an electability argument down the road.
“If a candidate feels they’re not going to get institutional support, the best strategy would be to get diverse support from upstarts, folks more closely aligned with you individually and your perspective and point of view,” said Mustafa Rashed, a political consultant in Philadelphia.
And in a hugely competitive statewide race that will help determine control of the Senate, showing you’ve got allies across the state can give an early boost.
“Going to all 67 counties in the state is a good idea. And you have enough time to do that,” Rashed said. “His strategy might be to be able to say he has an official endorsement from an elected official in every county.”
State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia), who is exploring a run, made a big splash in March at an appearance with a room full of Philadelphia Democrats whose attendance implied their potential support.
Kenyatta has taken the steady-trickle approach. His list includes names from Allegheny, Montgomery, Monroe, Cumberland, Beaver, Delaware, Montgomery, and Centre Counties.
With Democrats resuming in-person campaigning as the pandemic wanes, the political courtship is sure to ramp up.