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How heavy-duty GOP endorsements might shape 2018 Pa. Senate race

| Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Brighton
Facebook/Rep. Jim Christiana
Pennsylvania State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Brighton
In this Oct. 10, 2016, file photo, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (left), R-Pa., appears onstage with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, right, at a campaign rally at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Associated Press
In this Oct. 10, 2016, file photo, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (left), R-Pa., appears onstage with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, right, at a campaign rally at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Delaware County businessman Paul Addis
Facebook/Paul Addis
Delaware County businessman Paul Addis

Jim Christiana, a state representative from Brighton who is running for U.S. Senate, hopes new endorsements from state Republican leaders will boost his campaign in a state that last year set campaign spending records.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and House Majority Leader Dave Reed last week endorsed Christiana, who trails Hazleton Congressman Lou Barletta and Delaware County businessman Paul Addis in fundraising in the Republican primary race for the Senate seat held by Bob Casey, according to the latest campaign finance filings.

“Obviously Pennsylvania is a huge state, and it takes a lot of time and resources and friendships to start to build the statewide network you need to win,” Christiana, 34, said of the endorsements. “I think it gives our campaign a tremendous amount of momentum and gets people's attention in this primary election.”

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, also has endorsed Christiana.

Last year's U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, in which Lehigh Valley Republican Sen. Pat Toomey defeated Democrat Katie McGinty, was the most expensive in U.S. history. More than $188.2 million was spent, with candidates spending a combined $52.8 million while outside donors and groups spent $135.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

President Trump won in Pennsylvania in 2016, fueling Republican hopes of another big electoral victory next year and another flood of cash, said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

The biggest benefits of endorsements come from gaining access to fundraising networks, Borick said.

“Endorsements have some value in terms of a campaign,” Borick said. “More in terms of giving you credibility among fundraisers and within party organizations. They carry fairly little weight in terms of voter preferences unless they're from a very trusted and powerful figure.”

The most recent campaign finance data for the Senate candidates is from the end of September, before many of the race's endorsements. The next filing deadline comes at the end of this month.

Casey, 57, who is seeking his third six-year term, raised nearly $11.6 million and had about $7 million in the bank through Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Lou Barletta's campaign raised about $1 million and had about $951,000 in the bank at the end of September, FEC records showed.

Since the last filing, Barletta, 61, has received endorsements from the entire Pennsylvania Republican congressional delegation and about two dozen elected Republicans in the state House and Senate.

President Trump spoke favorably of Barletta when the president visited Pennsylvania in October, calling the congressman a “great guy,” and an “incredible congressman.”

Paul Addis had raised about $962,000 through Sept. 30, most of it coming from personal loans totaling $950,000 that he made to his campaign, FEC records showed. His campaign had about $881,000 in the bank, the records showed.

Addis, a retired energy executive, said he was not concerned with the endorsements his competitors have racked up.

“I think those endorsements are not surprising,” he said. “Mr. Barletta is a congressman; that's the way of the world. Jim Christiana has been in the Legislature a long time, and so he knows people and that's a courtesy and the way of the world.”

Addis said that while he would welcome endorsements, he believes his appeal to voters is tied to his independence and his business experience, which he said was built on his being a change agent.

Christiana's campaign had raised about $146,000 and had about $73,000 in the bank through Sept. 30, according to FEC records.

Casey's Senate campaign raised nearly $11.6 million and had about $7 million in the bank through Sept. 30, FEC records showed.

Christiana said he is optimistic about raising more money, partly because all of his support so far has come from within Pennsylvania. He said that reflects support in the state for his candidacy.

While President Trump hasn't formally endorsed Barletta, Borick, the political science professor, said the president's support could go far in a Republican primary election. He said it's an open question whether the president's support would aid the Republican nominee in the general election given the president's low approval rating.

Barletta, who was first elected in the 11th Congressional District in 2010, was an early supporter of Trump and co-chairman of his presidential campaign in Pennsylvania.

Christiana said he supports the president's agenda and wants to update the immigration system, secure the country's borders, empower military leaders and reduce the size and scope of the federal budget. He said he would be more conservative than Barletta, whom he characterized as a moderate who hasn't produced change.

“People are tired of the rope-a-dope, and they're tired of excuses,” he said. “And I think that if the Republicans nominate a proven conservative with a record of results in the Legislature, then we can beat Bob Casey. But if we nominate a Republican version of Bob Casey, that's the recipe Bob Casey wants, because that's the recipe for him to be given six more years in Washington.”

Barletta said in a statement that he has worked with the president on border security, illegal immigration and creating “an environment where American workers can find family-sustaining jobs,” criticizing Casey for fighting the president's agenda.

“I am running for the Senate to support President Trump's agenda of putting the American people first. I am giving up my seat in Congress, but I didn't go to Washington for a job, I went to get things done for the American people,” he said in the statement. “I was proud to help pass the historic tax cuts bill (Wednesday) that will let millions of Americans keep more of their own money and bring jobs back to Pennsylvania.”

Barletta was mayor of Hazleton before running for Congress. As mayor, he pushed through a controversial law penalizing businesses and landlords who hired or housed illegal immigrants and won re-election afterward by a big margin. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law before it went into effect.

He supported a recent bill to undo much of the Affordable Care Act and introduced legislation to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Christiana said his legislative record in the state House demonstrates his dedication to conservative ideas. He said he led an effort to post state contracts and other documents online through the PennWATCH service; he launched legislation with incentives to bring the Shell cracker plant to Beaver County; and he supported school choice legislation.

He has pushed a measure to eliminate property taxes and replace them with income and sales taxes. He voted against a $2.3 billion transportation plan in 2013 because he objected to it being funded by a tax on gasoline.

Also running in the GOP primary are Cynthia Ayers, who raised $25,000 and had about $4,000 in the bank through Sept. 30; Bobby Lawrence, who raised $6,000 and had $637 in the bank; and Paul DeLong, whose campaign hadn't raised any money as of Sept. 30.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or wventeicher@tribweb.com.

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