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Can this New Yorker Become Pennsylvania's Next U.S. Senator?

by Chris Galdieri

Donald Trump, Jr. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

We're close enough to the 2020 election that the 2022 elections are beginning to take shape. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) stunned many with his recent announcement that he would not, as many expected, run for governor in two years, nor would he seek another term in the Senate. One of the names mentioned as a possible successor in the Senate is Donald Trump, Jr., who has been involved in his father's re-election campaign in this crucial swing state.

The junior Trump would face one thorny issue in running for the Senate in Pennsylvania: He is not actually a resident of the state, and the Constitution mandates that senators must reside in the state they represent by the time of their election. Moving to Pennsylvania would make Trump a carpetbagger – a candidate who moves to a state for the express purpose of seeking office there. In my book, Stranger in a Strange State: The Politics of Carpetbagging from Robert Kennedy to Scott Brown, I examine the campaigns of nine carpetbaggers who sought election to the United States Senate. Their experiences offer a useful framework for thinking about a Trump for Pennsylvania campaign.

A carpetbagger campaign has two necessary elements. The first is an ambitious would-be candidate, and the other is a state party in need of a candidate. What makes each of these elements a bit different from candidates and parties in races with home-grown candidates is that both the would-be candidates and the state party do not have better options.

Consider, for example, Robert Kennedy. Following his brother's assassination, he felt that he could not remain in Lyndon Johnson's cabinet. Johnson and Kennedy loathed each other and Johnson did not give Kennedy the same access and influence he had enjoyed when his brother was president. Kennedy was stymied in his search for a new position: Johnson had no interest in making Kennedy his vice president, and his brother Ted held the Senate seat that was up in Massachusetts in 1964. Kennedy could have run for governor of Massachusetts and won, but feared that he would be dragged into the minutia of parochial state politics and away from the national spotlight.

A carpetbagger campaign has two necessary elements. The first is an ambitious would-be candidate, and the other is a state party in need of a candidate.

But there was also a Senate seat up in New York that year, and it was held by Kenneth Keating, a liberal Republican. Better still for Kennedy, New York Democrats were in the middle of a long period in the wilderness that had begun with Nelson Rockefeller's election as governor in 1958. The party lacked a deep bench of viable candidates; the only declared Democrat was an upstate congressman who was getting no traction among voters or party leaders. A Kennedy run in New York would benefit both Kennedy, by giving him a shot at a new platform, and the state Democrats, by giving them a famous, credible candidate who was inextricably linked to the slain president. And so Kennedy found himself coming to the New York Democrats' rescue, defeating Senator Keating, and being sworn into the Senate alongside his younger brother in a matter of months.

Scott Brown, who briefly held the same seat as Ted Kennedy following his special election victory in 2010, was similarly in need of a platform after his loss to Elizabeth Warren two years later. There was a special election for John Kerry's Senate seat after President Obama made him secretary of state, but Brown was savvy enough to know lightning would not strike him twice. Running for governor in 2014 would mean a tough primary against Charlie Baker. Brown acted a bit like a presidential candidate, making visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, and that prompted some speculation that Brown might move to the Granite State and run against incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Just as New York's Democrats lacked strong options against Keating in 1964, New Hampshire's GOP was coming off a bad election year in 2012 that had left the party with few viable local options. It wasn't that Brown brought some sort of political superpowers to the race; it was New Hampshire Republicans concluded that he was much more likely to win than the little-known local candidates who came forward. Brown didn't win, but he kept the race close; Shaheen won with just 51.6% of the vote, exactly what she had received six years prior in her race against then-Senator John E. Sununu.

Other races involved similarly desperate parties. After a sex scandal ended Jack Ryan's campaign against Barack Obama in Illinois in 2004, and one local Republican after another – from respected former governors James Thompson and Jim Edgar to Mike Ditka – declined the nomination, the party imported Alan Keyes as its nominee. In 1986, New Hampshire Democrats were fearful that a follower of Lyndon LaRouche might win their nomination, and convinced Endicott Peabody, a one-term former Massachusetts governor who had retired to Hollis, to run a quixotic and doomed race against Warren Rudman. A caution for the would-be carpetbagger, then, is that the opportunities available to them are rarely great ones. For every Kennedy or Hillary Clinton who wins, there's a Keyes and a Peabody and a few more.

How valuable an opportunity is the Republican nomination for the US Senate in

Pennsylvania in 2022? Pennsylvania is a swing state where Republicans can and do win statewide elections, and where presidential races are often hard-fought. Republicans also control the state legislature and hold nine of the state's 18 seats in the House of Representatives. So there's every reason to think the Republican nominee in 2022, whoever he or she may be, will have a good shot at winning the election. That will particularly be the case if Joe Biden wins the 2020 election, and 2022 becomes a midterm year during a Democratic presidency. There's no guarantee that 2022 would be another 1994 or 2010 under those circumstances, but the chance that it would makes the nomination even more valuable and attractive to ambitious Pennsylvania Republicans.

That's actually bad news for Trump: The more winnable the race looks, the more likely home-grown candidates will be to take a close look at running. So Trump's best move, if he's genuinely interested in the race, is to start working now to convince potential rivals not to run. To that end he would be wise to make Pennsylvania his primary residence sooner rather than later, and continue his involvement in his father's re-election campaign's efforts in Pennsylvania. (Trump actually has some ties to the state he can build on, having attended boarding school and college in Pennsylvania.)

Hillary Clinton was able to win over skeptical New Yorkers in 1999 and 2000 by moving to the state early and spending so much time upstate that what started out as a spectacle became familiar and discouraged other potential candidates from entering the race. Trump's goal should be to avoid a situation in which a home-grown candidate runs against him in a primary and goes on the attack to an extent that is either enough to beat Trump, or to leave him badly damaged heading into the general election campaign. Few Republicans with ambitions for higher office have been willing to criticize Trump Sr.; it's possible that primary rivals would be similarly reluctant to attack Trump Jr.

Many factors are outside of anyone's control; we can only speculate as to what the state of the Trump name will be by 2022, or what will come of ongoing inquiries into the family's finances and business enterprises. And it's quite possible what while Trump has enjoyed his role in his father's campaigns, he has no desire to spend six years or more sitting in the Senate. But if Trump can win the Republican nomination, he could have a very good shot of being the next United States Senator from Pennsylvania. While the track record of carpetbaggers as a class is not a good one, some recent elections may make such a run more appealing. Scott Brown did not win his race in New Hampshire, but came within just a few points, and his run gave him a renewed profile in Republican politics. Mitt Romney won his 2018 campaign in Utah despite his prior service as governor of Massachusetts.

Another factor that helps any carpetbagger in a competitive state these days is the extent of Americans' partisan polarization. Simply winning a party's nomination can set to rest partisans' ambivalence about an out-of-state candidate. In 2016, the fact that Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president was enough to get many reluctant GOP voters to cast their ballots for him. If 2022 turns out to be a good year for Republicans, Donald Trump Jr. might get the chance to make Pennsylvania great again.

Christopher Galdieri is an associate professor of political science at Saint Anselm College.

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