Kenneth Braithwaite, a former ambassador to Norway who served as secretary of the Navy under President Donald Trump, is considering a run for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania next year, three people familiar with the matter said.
Braithwaite, 60, who lives in Chester County, was confirmed as Navy secretary last May and served through the end of Trump’s term. In recent weeks, some GOP officials have encouraged Braithwaite to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
The Pennsylvania race will likely be among the most competitive in the country and will help decide control of the Senate for the final two years of President Joe Biden’s term. The outreach to Braithwaite, who worked for the moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in the late 1990s, underscores the party’s recognition that it needs to win back suburban voters who fled the GOP under Trump.
Braithwaite is also close to people with ties to Trump, including David Urban, a former chief of staff under Specter who advised Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign in 2016. Braithwaite served on the Trump transition team at the Pentagon.
Braithwaite’s allies say he could bridge the party’s moderate and pro-Trump wings. “Tons of people are calling the guy, saying, ‘Hey, you need to run. We’ll help you,’” said one Republican in touch with Braithwaite, speaking on condition of anonymity to share private discussions.
“He says he thinks he’d do well vs. Fetterman,” this person said, referring to Lt. Gov John Fetterman, an Allegheny County Democrat who is eyeing a Senate run.
Two of the three people familiar with Braithwaite’s thinking have spoken to him directly. Efforts to reach Braithwaite on Friday were unsuccessful.
Braithwaite isn’t the only Southeastern Pennsylvania Republican in the mix for the Senate seat, which Toomey won in 2010 after Specter switched parties and lost in the Democratic primary. Former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, of West Chester, is considering a run. Jeff Bartos, a Lower Merion real estate developer who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, is said to be weighing a campaign.
Braithwaite, a Michigan native, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1984. He spent 31 years in the Navy and Navy Reserve, becoming a rear admiral. He flew anti-submarine missions tracking the Soviets in the Pacific in the 1980s and later deployed to Iraq in 2003.
He also served in public affairs roles, including at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia in 1990. Braithwaite received a master’s degree in government administration from Penn and served as a Ridley Park councilman in the 1990s.
In the private sector, Braithwaite has worked in health care and hospital systems, and was senior vice president of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, a trade group.
Trump tapped Braithwaite to be ambassador to Norway in 2017. In that role, he focused in part on pushing the country to contribute more to NATO — a top priority for Trump, who often complained that the United States spends too much money for other nations’ defense.
Trump again turned to Braithwaite in November 2019 amid a public fallout with military leadership over the president’s intervention in a saga involving a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. Before Braithwaite was confirmed for the post, the Navy endured another crisis: a coronavirus outbreak on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which led to more leadership clashes.
“It saddens me to say: The Department of the Navy is in troubled waters due to many factors, primarily the failings of leadership,” Braithwaite said during his Senate confirmation hearing last May. He added, “While I recognize the challenges for all they are, I am ready.”