Joan Claybrook, president of the Washington DC-based Consumer Federation of America, exits primary race as Kathy Rapp joins ranks with a 13% projected lead over former congressman Lou Barletta
Donald Trump’s backing of a populist conservative to succeed Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania’s Senate race has shaken up the field just five weeks before the Republican primary and opened the door to new contenders in a contest that will likely determine the party’s path to the White House in 2020.
Joan Claybrook, the president of the Washington DC-based Consumer Federation of America, has withdrawn from the race and is now backing Kathy Rapp for the Pennsylvania Republican Senate nomination.
Joan Claybrook: ‘Trump is killing the Republican party’ Read more
Barletta is a moderate conservative who had the backing of Trump, the leading Republican in the state, though the president, who narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, has not endorsed him.
The maneuver by Claybrook increases the chances that the nomination will go to a Republican with a more centrist background. Two other Republicans, Lou Barletta and Jim Christiana, are vying for the nomination and likely to benefit from Claybrook’s late withdrawal.
Rapp, who was born in Georgia and is the only woman in the race, collected nearly half of Claybrook’s votes and is now projected to win the nomination with a 13% margin over Barletta.
Her win comes as Barletta, a former mayor of Hazleton, faces legal challenges stemming from his role in an eminent domain scheme. That case has focused on his efforts to condemn the home of a city official who supported equality for same-sex couples, and it added a note of uncertainty to the path ahead.
“I have a feeling her mission will keep her busy,” said Christiana, also a businessman and a former state representative. “I plan to focus on substance and see if I can get any traction with the voters,” he added.
If these two were to face off in a head-to-head match-up, it would be one of the biggest decisions for Republicans since a high-profile congressional primaries battle in Wisconsin in 2016 that ultimately went against the GOP establishment and against Trump’s preferred candidate.
In that contest, the Green Bay-area congressman Paul Ryan, who would then become speaker of the House, failed to defeat Darlene Miller, the suburban Milwaukee congresswoman. She won the Republican nomination to challenge Ryan in November 2016, three months before Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
Lou Barletta on America’s talk radio. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Rapp said she was accepting Claybrook’s support not because she could beat either Barletta or Christiana in a general election, but to “spread her message” and counter the influence of Trump in the presidential campaign and the Republican party.
Asked what message, she said: “Religious freedom, fiscal responsibility, fighting for the little guy … it’s a message that has resonated with a lot of people.”
When asked about the legal challenges Barletta faces in his bid for a Republican senate nomination, she said: “I have a lot of concerns about Donald Trump and what he does and what he says. And I am running against him and Lou Barletta.”
Tom Mango, a former economic adviser to Gov. Scott Walker, is also running in the GOP Senate primary.
With Claybrook’s support, Rapp is now projected to win the nomination with a 13% margin over Barletta. Photograph: Kate Kelland/AP
Barletta first announced his candidacy on CNN but then abruptly dropped out days later. Still, he retains Trump’s endorsement, though it has been unclear when he will campaign for him.
In the closing days of the Republican primary, the frontrunner is expected to fight for what party leaders may view as the ultimate prize.
In November, Democrats will nominate someone to challenge Republican senator Pat Toomey, who won his seat in a 2016 race in which he bested Hillary Clinton by 20 points. Toomey is one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country.
In an interview on Thursday, Toomey said he was trying to “do everything right” in his campaign.
“Nobody is super paid up to run against me,” he said. “I feel good about what I’m doing.”