Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to visit Pennsylvania and speak to the Allegheny County Republican Party next month, a visit likely to further fuel speculation around a figure already seen as a potential presidential candidate.
The May 20 appearance was confirmed by three Pennsylvania Republicans familiar with the plans. Word of DeSantis’ visit spread as some of Pennsylvania’s top Republican officials were gathering in the center of the state Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to size up candidates for governor and U.S. Senate in 2022.
Conservative excitement around DeSantis is rising as he wins praise on the right for his relatively permissive approach to the coronavirus pandemic and jousts with the mainstream media. A visit to Pennsylvania could further raise his profile in one of the country’s key battlegrounds. DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Neither did Allegheny County Republican chairman Sam DeMarco.
The annual Republican event in Huntingdon County was mostly looking to 2022, when Pennsylvania has wide open races for governor and U.S. Senate and the GOP will choose new faces to lead the party into the post-Trump era. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t seeking reelection.
About a dozen declared or potential candidates were making their pitches to about 100 party insiders, including county party chairs and Republican leaders representing 31 counties, said the event’s organizer, Huntingdon County GOP chair C. Arnold McClure. State party chairman Lawrence Tabas was there, too. With so many candidates trying to distinguish themselves, the event offered one early opportunity for them to impress party influencers.
Among the highlights:
Potential gubernatorial candidates listed on the program included state Sen. Doug Mastriano, U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, former state House Majority Leader David Reed, businessman Jason Richey, and political strategist and pundit Charlie Gerow. Some seem more likely to jump in than others (McSwain, for example, has already set up a political committee and has fund-raisers scheduled). But the list gives a sense of who is actively thinking about it.
Former state House Speaker Mike Turzai was listed among the potential gubernatorial candidates but did not attend. Neither did Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale and his brother Sean, who are running for governor and Senate, respectively. “While establishment candidates lurk around Swamp Fests looking for the support of political insiders, I connect directly with the voters,” Joe Gale tweeted. Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a close Trump ally who has also edged toward a run for governor and who was the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, was not there. He had a scheduling conflict, according to an aide.
The Senate list comprised businessman Jeff Bartos, former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette, businessman Everett Stern, Elk County Deputy Sheriff and gun store owner Martin Rosenfeld, who are all formally declared candidates, as well as some openly considering it, including former congressional candidate Sean Parnell. Karen Dunn Kelley, a deputy secretary of commerce in the Trump administration, was listed as a potential candidate who could not attend.
Carla Sands, the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, was also there. Sands has been rumored to be on the verge of entering the Senate race for weeks. She had a campaign aide in tow, so it appears as likely as ever.
Heather Heidelbaugh, who ran for state attorney general last year, told attendees she plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2022, according to two people who were there.
The potential candidates spoke briefly to the crowd Thursday night and were scheduled to meet with small groups of party activists Friday. There were also sessions planned about issues such as abortion, energy policy, divisions between urban and rural counties, and how to “counter the Left’s control of the mainstream media,” according to the programs.
Some of the potential candidates themselves helped put on the event: Meuser paid for Friday’s use of the event space at Lake Raystown Resort, and Bartos paid for Saturday’s. Dunn Kelley provided additional financial support, according to the program, and Turzai funded the coffee station.
“We get to know them, they get to know us, and they get to know each other,” McClure said. The event was closed to the media.