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Former GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus considering jumping into Pennsylvania Senate race

If he throws his hat in the ring, it would expand a field that saw Dr. Mehmet Oz announce a candidacy this week following Sean Parnell's departure.
Image: Rep. Keith Rothfus
Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., participates in the press conference, in Washington, on Sept. 6, 2018.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

The Senate GOP primary in Pennsylvania might get even more crowded.

Former Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., told NBC News on Tuesday that he's considering launching a Senate bid, a move that would further expand the Republican field for a seat that's crucial to both parties in their fight to win control of the chamber in next year's midterm elections.

Rothfus, who represented a district in the western part of the state from 2013 through 2019, said he has "made a bunch of phone calls" on potentially entering the race and is "getting positive feedback."

Rothfus said he is "exploring if there is a path into this race, particularly for someone who has represented Western Pennsylvania in the past" and "been on the ground in the past decade." He mentioned bolstering the energy industry in Pennsylvania, curtailing government spending and advocating for a more aggressive foreign policy with China as some of the issues that would be core to his candidacy if he jumps into the primary.

"The question is: What is the path to this?" he said. "I’m taking a close look at it and I’ve been on the phone a lot."

Rothfus touted the need for primary candidates who've spent years living in Pennsylvania to participate in the growing field. Dr. Mehmet Oz, who announced his candidacy on Tuesday, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania but lived in New Jersey as recently as 2020 and registered to vote in Pennsylvania last year at the home of his in-laws, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Carla Sands, former President Donald Trump's ambassador to Denmark and a fellow GOP candidate in the race, spent much of her adult life living in California.

The Keystone State Senate race was shaken up last week when Trump’s endorsed candidate, Sean Parnell, ended his campaign after his estranged wife was granted sole legal custody of their children in a case where she alleged abuse. Parnell, who at the time was backed by Rothfus, has denied the accusations.

Pennsylvania is the only state President Joe Biden won last fall where a Republican-held seat is now open. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not seeking another term. Victory here by either party might determine who controls the Senate, where Democrats currently have the edge with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote.

Aside from Oz and Sands, other Republicans, including Jeff Bartos, the party’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, and Kathy Barnette, who sought a congressional seat last fall, are seeking the party's nomination. Parnell's personal troubles triggered speculation about new candidates, including Oz, Rothfus and David McCormick, the husband of Trump administration official Dina Powell and the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund based in Westport, Conn.

The Democratic side features a deep field, too, with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Dr. Val Arkoosh, a physician and the Montgomery County commissioner and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, who bested Rothfus in a 2018 race.