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Pennsylvania’s sleepy Senate race could still play key role

Marc Levy
The Associated Press
FILE – In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., gets on an elevator after arriving for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York. During Pennsylvania's Tuesday, May 15, 2018, primary election, Republican Party voters in the state will select Barletta or Pennsylvania state Rep. Jim Christiana as their nominee to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's re-election bid. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

LANCASTER, Pa. – Pennsylvania’s thus-far sleepy U.S. Senate race this year could nonetheless play a key role in determining whether Republicans hang onto control of the chamber.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is heavily favored over state Rep. Jim Christiana in Tuesday’s Republican primary election to determine who will challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in November’s election.

Casey is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Barletta is endorsed by the state Republican Party and is a favorite of President Donald Trump, who Barletta endorsed in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump asked Barletta to run for U.S. Senate – the pair are on good enough terms that Barletta watched this year’s Super Bowl with Trump at the Republican president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida – and Barletta remains a staunch supporter.

Barletta has run for months as the GOP’s presumptive nominee, targeting his criticism toward Casey.

“He has resisted, rejected and obstructed every single thing that Donald Trump has done,” Barletta told a Lancaster County Republican Party dinner crowd Thursday night.

Casey, a fierce Trump critic, is seeking a third six-year term. The Scranton native is the son of the late former governor, Bob Casey Sr., and is possibly the best-known political name in Pennsylvania.

Barletta won his House seat during the Republican midterm wave of 2010, catapulted by the attention he received while mayor of the small city of Hazleton for cracking down on immigrants in the country illegally.

This Oct. 14, 2016 photo shows Rep. Jim Christiana in Beaver, Pa, Pennsylvania's thus-far sleepy U.S. Senate race could nonetheless help determine whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber. U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is heavily favored over state Rep. Jim Christiana in Tuesday's Republican primary election. Republicans control the Senate, 51-49. (Lucy Schaly/Beaver County Times via AP)

Christiana focuses his energy on Barletta, but not for Barletta’s support of Trump. Rather, Christiana criticizes Barletta as “saying one thing during a campaign and then turning around doing something completely different in Washington.”

Casey is one of 10 Democratic senators who represent a state won by Trump, putting a target on his back for Republicans. The GOP has a slight majority in the U.S. Senate.

For now, Casey holds a large cash advantage over Barletta, $9.9 million to $1.3 million as of April 25. Casey also has midterm political winds at his back: the party of the president nearly always loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.

Barely any outside money has made its way into Pennsylvania thus far to help Casey or Barletta, making it unlikely that Pennsylvanians will see a repeat of the record-breaking $180 million U.S. Senate race in 2016 that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey won by fewer than 2 percentage points.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.