Sharif Street puts one foot into Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate race
Politicians eyeing Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat have taken one of two approaches: jump in early, or sit back and watch a potentially crowded field take shape. Sharif Street is trying a third way.
Politicians eyeing Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat have taken one of two approaches: jump in early, or sit back and watch a potentially crowded field take shape before making a move.
State Sen. Sharif Street is trying a third way — one foot in the race and the other out, not telling voters he will be their next U.S. senator, but asking if they want him for the job.
Street expounded for more than an hour on this approach Friday, as he and a long line of supporters touted him not just as a lawmaker from North Philadelphia, but a leader for the state Democratic Party.
Announcing the formation of a so-called exploratory committee for the race, Street was most animated when asked about other candidates already in the race, including state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh. Street and Kenyatta represent overlapping Philadelphia districts.
“The reality is, more people have heard of me than any other candidate, other than maybe one candidate in this race,” Street said in a nod to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the very early front-runner.
“They never heard of these other folks,” Street said. “And I think they’re good people with good ideas.”
Speaking at a Philadelphia union hall, Street, 47, acknowledged that, by federal law, his formation of an exploratory committee means he is now a candidate for U.S. Senate. He gave no time frame for when he would commit to running. He plans a statewide tour to assess his prospects and predicted he and other candidates will discuss whether they should unite behind one contender.
He noted that his tour of the state will also give him time to test how strong his financial backing would be in what could be the most expensive race in the country next year. Pennsylvania’s 2022 race will help determine whether Democrats keep control of an evenly divided Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tie-breaking vote.
“The reality is that, if we do this, we’re going to have to raise millions and millions of dollars,” Street said. “I’ve got to ask other people for money. I don’t have much.”
Street, a lawyer who previously ran unsuccessfully for state House and City Council, was a state Senate staffer before being elected in 2016. He spoke for so long Friday morning that he became hoarse and needed a water break.
He later declared himself a “policy wonk and a little bit of a nerd” as he discussed infrastructure, agriculture, energy policy, health care, legalizing marijuana, gun regulation, and drug addiction.
He cited a common quip from his father, former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, who often paused during long speeches to say, “We will be brief, no matter how long it takes.”
Bob Brady, chairman of the city’s Democratic Party, introduced Street and praised his efforts as vice chair of the state party.
“There are a lot of people who have announced,” Brady said of candidates already in the race. “There are a lot of people who may announce. But nobody can surpass him.”
Other potential candidates in the Democratic primary, still more than a year away, include U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County, Chrissy Houlahan of Chester County, and Conor Lamb of Allegheny County, along with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
The Republican primary is also expected to be crowded after U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican, announced last year that he won’t seek a third term. Three Montgomery County Republicans — developer Jeff Bartos, former congressional candidate Kathy Barnette, and attorney Sean Gale — have joined the race. Former Western Pennsylvania congressional candidate Sean Parnell is likely to run, and former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello of Chester County is considering a campaign.
The Democratic leadership of the state Senate on Friday attended the event, held at the Laborers District Council headquarters on North Broad Street, via teleconferencing. Street’s event included several invocations of former President Donald Trump, his policies, and his 2020 reelection campaign.
State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, speaking from Pittsburgh, said Street “led the effort to beat back” legal challenges pushed by Trump and his allies in failed efforts to throw out Pennsylvania’s election results. Costa predicted Street would bring “the same passion” to the U.S. Senate.
Street cast his test campaign as proof that the improbable can come true in Pennsylvania politics, citing his father’s ascent from North Philadelphia hot dog vendor to lawyer to mayor.
“People call me the son of a mayor,” Street said. “But when I was born, he was selling hot dogs.”