Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Jeff Bartos mixes business rhetoric with Culture War rhetoric

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As Jeff Bartos stood in front of voters at a restaurant in suburban Philadelphia, he spoke of three priorities for his Republican Senate campaign: helping small businesses, competing with China, and “restoring the American dream to our children.”

The first two are standard economy rates for Bartos, a Lower Merion real estate developer cut from the traditional fabric of the GOP Chamber of Commerce, who delivered a message similar to that of the 2018 Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

But what about this American dream? It was there that Bartos – who was on day four of a 12-day bus tour through Pennsylvania – made a sharp detour into the policy of cultural grievances adopted by former President Donald Trump and the party. most conservative forces.

Citing two girls in college, Bartos said students now have to be careful about what they say or write for fear of failing or being “canceled” by their classmates.

“The idea that in our higher education institutions, those voices that would rise up and present a different message are being silenced or cooled due to their conservative beliefs is something that is fundamentally anti-American,” Bartos told About 40 voters in Souderton. at the end of last month.

Republican primaries often boil down to choices between candidates loyal to Trump and less trying to chart a different course.

Bartos tries to have a bit of both. Against a growing number of Trump allies seeking support from the former president, Bartos mixes traditional conservative portfolio politics with more reactionary rhetoric about cultural progressivism.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania Republicans have a path to victory in 2022. Pro-Trump candidates might not follow it.

In an interview, Bartos said his message hasn’t changed since 2018.

“I’m not just playing a sound sample. It’s not who I am, “he said. noted. “I don’t think anything has changed in the way I communicate.

But in fundraising campaigns and in his first long campaigning campaign, he spoke about some of the party’s cultural issues, including how schools teach students about racism.

Bartos is widely regarded as one of the top candidates for the GOP Senate, in part thanks to his ability to invest money in his own campaign. He has so far loaned $ 840,000 to his campaign, which puts him more money in the bank than former congressional candidate Sean Parnell and Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette.

The Pennsylvania Senate race is one of the most competitive in the country and will help determine which party controls the chamber after 2022. Outgoing Republican Senator Pat Toomey is not seeking reelection.

READ MORE: Here’s what the Pa Senate Candidate Fundraising Reports tell us. 2022

On a day that started at a manufacturing company in Chester County and traveled through the five Philadelphia-area counties, Bartos rode in style on a 45-foot bus wrapped in a photo of himself and his campaign logo. A television was tuned to the Weather Channel while friends and advisers sat in cabins or on sofas. At one point, an assistant told the candidate to stop micromanaging the navigation as the driver plotted a route from Bucks County to Philadelphia.

Bartos briefly ran for the Senate in 2017 before advancing to the four-candidate primary for lieutenant governor, winning 47% of the vote. This had him replaced by former State Senator Scott Wagner, a staunch Trump supporter who at times seemed unable to control his anger at Governor Tom Wolf.

By comparison, Bartos came across as cold and wobbly – a smart candidate who didn’t take himself too seriously. He even struck up an unlikely friendship with John Fetterman, who became Wolf’s lieutenant governor and is now one of the first Democrats to run for the Senate. Fetterman said he encouraged Bartos to come forward, although Bartos said he didn’t remember.

Now Bartos is practicing a bit of a political juggling act. In one sentence, he may sound like a centrist on CNBC warning about China’s influence on the supply of computer superconductors. In the following, he may sound like a Fox News expert lamenting that voters are “being forgotten” in Washington.

Bartos spent much of the pandemic raising money for small businesses through the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit he co-founded that provides forgivable loans to more than 1,000 of them. they. He told the mid-morning rally at the Franconia Café that he had raised $ 3.6 million in the past 15 months.

“When I talk about saving Main Street in Pennsylvania, it’s not just words to me,” he said.

Bartos often says that what unites Americans is much stronger than what divides them. But he also spends a lot of time talking about these divisions.

He cited a conversation with a Lancaster cafe owner, who he said confided she had given up following state pandemic regulations in December. He then compared the approval by voters last year of a referendum limiting the governor’s emergency powers to Revolutionary War and World War II.

“We, I like to say, fired the first shot in the battle to restore freedom and liberty, not only here but across the country,” he said.

READ MORE: School board meetings get tense with debates over critical race theory and masking

Bartos also denounced critical race theory, a decades-old concept once mostly confined to academic and legal circles that suggests racism is structurally embedded in government and other institutions. It has become a political flashpoint and proxy for Republicans like Bartos who warn of impending “cultural Marxism”.

Very few districts actually teach the theory itself. But Bartos called it “state-sponsored racism” imposed on elementary school students. Pressed to name a district in Pennsylvania that teaches critical breed theory, Bartos said he didn’t know of any and his comments focused on one in Virginia. This district denies teaching theory.

Some of Bartos’ main opponents are vocal election deniers. Bartos acknowledged that Joe Biden won Pennsylvania and the presidency and said he, his wife and two daughters voted by mail, but Bartos also supported an investigation into the 2020 election, particularly how postal ballots were used. Such calls have increasingly become a litmus test in GOP primaries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere as Trump continued his lies about a stolen election.

Bartos’ tour had a quick tour of Bucks County, where local business owners complained about delays in the US Postal Service and difficulties finding workers ready for entry-level jobs.

Back on the bus, Bartos retreated to an aft cabin that serves as both a bedroom and makeshift office for fundraising appeals. The bus drove south to the Philadelphia Italian Market, where Bartos’ wife and daughters joined him for a stroll down bustling Ninth Street.

The family has moved in and out of cheese factories, butchers and restaurants, with Bartos telling several business owners how he took his daughters to the market on Saturdays to roam and shop when they were younger.

The day ended at Geno’s Steaks, a mandatory stop and a photo shoot for any candidate. Bartos strapped on an apron and walked over to a sizzling grill, slapping meat under the tutelage of General Manager Jeff Beres.

“It’s awesome,” Bartos said as Beres presented him with a farewell, whiz, wit cheesesteak.

Beres joked about running an orderly business. Bartos saw an opening.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Washington is a bit of a mess. “


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