Rep. Conor Lamb is set to announce his bid for U.S. Senate as early as August 6, 2021. Photo: Getty Images.
Rep. Conor Lamb is set to announce his bid for U.S. Senate as early as August 6, 2021. Photo: Getty Images.

Rep. Conor Lamb to clinch the moderate lane in PA’s Democratic Senate primary

The congressman from Western Pennsylvania is preparing to launch his bid for the U.S. Senate in August.


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Pennsylvania Democrats have been lining up to add their names to those seeking to compete for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022. 

On Oct. 5, 2020 the Keystone state’s Republican senator Pat Toomey said he would be retiring from elected office. This means that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber nor will he run for governor, an office that will also become open in 2022 with Gov. Tom Wolf being term limited. 

Toomey will have served two terms in the Senate by next year and was a member of the House from 1999 to 2005. 

His decision to return to the private sector has been speculated to have come about because of fears of losing a bid for a third term. 

With Pennsylvania being a swing state, elections are usually close, but Sen. Toomey has won by extremely narrow margins when campaigning statewide. 

In 2011, he defeated former Rep. Joe Sestak by just over 2% and in his last race in 2016, Katie McGinty lost to the incumbent by less than 1.5%. 

Aside from taking place during a presidential election year, that campaign was intriguing because Toomey raised nearly $31 million, which was almost twice as much as McGinty was able to collect. 

The two-term senator is now in contention with the Donald Trump-supporting activist wing of the GOP after he was one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict the former president in his second impeachment trial over the incitement of an insurrection on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. 

The Democratic challengers

The first prominent Democrat to launch a bid to replace Toomey was Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. 

The former mayor of Braddock is also the leading the progressive candidate. He endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run for president and supports policies like Medicare for All. 

2022 is his second time running for Senate, and he finished third in the Democratic primary in 2016 behind McGinty and Sestak. 

State representative Malcolm Kenyatta made his intentions clear that he would seek the open seat in February. Pennsylvania’s openly-LGBT person of color to be a member of the state assembly hopes to be able to use his recently-attained fame to win over progressive voters. 

Winning his seat in 2018, the 31-year-old was a keynote speaker at the 2020 Democratic National Convention and a campaign surrogate for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. 

He also supports left-leaning policies such as raising the minimum wage and legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but has tried to abandon the progressive label by calling himself a “Do Something Democrat.” 

Despite his more establishment ties, it is likely that Kenyatta will split the progressive vote given the policies he has fought for, his identity, and being from Philadelphia. 

Fundraising as of the end of the second quarter, which concluded on June 30, shows that Fetterman outraised the young legislator by a mark of more than seven to one

If left-leaning voters are fractured severely enough a prominent moderate could capitalize and cruise to the nomination.

The moderate Democrat 

The prominent moderate seems like it will be Rep. Conor Lamb, a 37 year-old with military experience who comes from a political family. His father was the Democratic Majority Leader in the Pennsylvania State Senate and his uncle is the City Controller of Pittsburgh. 

According to KDKA’s Jon Delano, sources have told him that Lamb will make his run announcement on Friday, Aug. 6 at the IBEW Union Hall on the South Side. 

Even before making his bid official, he was already a frontrunner for the open Senate seat. 

Lamb has been in Congress since 2018, but in three years he has already won three elections. 

His first race saw him triumph over a Republican in a special election in a district Trump won by 20 points in 2016. Biden got involved in that race and spoke at a campaign event for him. 

After redistricting took place in Pennsylvania, he defeated incumbent Keith Rothfus and then defended his new seat in 2020 against Sean Parnell, an army veteran who frequently features on Fox News

Parnell is now a declared candidate to replace Toomey and with the GOP not having many high profile names in their primary, there could be a rematch between him and Lamb in 2022. 

The Western Pennsylvania Democrat, like Kenyatta, is considered to be a rising figure in his party and was also featured as a keynote speaker at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

With Republicans in control of redistricting in the Keystone state after it was known it would lose a congressional district following Census data that showed a decline in population growth, running for Senate may be a way for Lamb to keep his political career alive. 

Strategists expect mapmakers to merge Rep. Mike Doyle’s district with his and force local Democrats to choose between them. 

Doyle is a longtime member of the House, winning his first race in 1994. 

Being known as the Democrat who can win in Trump country will help Lamb seem electable, but his views may be too conservative for primary voters. 

Ahead of the 2018 special election, then House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Ryan commented on the views of both candidates. 

“Both of these candidates ran as conservatives. Ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives,” he said. 

Lamb backed congressman Joe Kennedy over Nancy Pelosi to be the House Speaker in 2019 and he does not support a ban on fracking, a proposal liberals see as essential to combating climate change. 

His detractors are easy to point out but he will hope the divided progressive vote coming out of Philadelphia allows him to claim the moderate lane and clinch the nomination. Lamb will also use his closeness with Biden, a Scranton native, and ability to win over Trump voters to highlight his centrist appeal.


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