A pair of local Jewish Republicans are seeking political office for the first time on Election Day: Jeff Bartos is a candidate for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, while Bryan Leib is running for Pennsylvania’s 3rd District.
Bartos first started campaigning to challenge U.S. Sen Bob Casey in 2017, in part because of Casey’s vote to support the Iran nuclear deal, which many in the Jewish community derided as too harsh against Israel.
But after President Donald Trump announced his support for Lou Barletta in the Republican primary to challenge Casey, Bartos pulled his name out of the running. In turn, he launched his campaign to eventually become Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner’s running mate.
Bartos, a longtime Montgomery County real estate developer, won the primary easily, earning 46.8 percent of the vote in a four-person field. Wagner won his primary, too, and the Republicans began their dual-campaign in earnest.
Bartos’ campaign, like those of the statewide candidates, paused briefly in the wake of the fatal shooting inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.
Three days later, he was in the city for the funerals of brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, cousins of a close Bartos friend.
“I haven’t been able to put it into words yet. The sheer horror that 70-plus years [after the Holocaust], we would be dealing with such an atrocity of hatred against Jewish people,” Bartos said. “While this hateful, cowardly act targeted Jews, it was an affront to civilized people everywhere.”
As a candidate, Bartos has preached the importance of demonstrating civil discourse and respect.
He cuts a different persona from his running mate, who, in a since-deleted Facebook video, spoke of his intent to stomp “all over” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s face with golf spikes. Wolf’s running mate, John Fetterman, labeled Wagner’s comments “terroristic.”
“If elected, it is my responsibility to lead with respect, civility and compassion,” Bartos said. “I’ve tried to the best of my ability to live my values on the campaign trail.”
Recent polls suggest a very steep path to victory for the Wagner/Bartos ticket. A Politico/Morning Consult poll from early October showed Wolf with 48 percent support to Wagner’s 36 percent. (In Pennsylvania, votes are cast for governor and lieutenant governor as a bloc).
Leib also faces an uphill climb in the new 3rd District, which includes the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and a portion of Philadelphia.
Dwight Evans, the Democratic incumbent from the old Second District, is the overwhelming favorite to hang on to this seat; fivethirtyeight.com gives Evans a 99.9 percent chance of victory Nov. 6.
That hasn’t discouraged Leib, who was a registered Democrat as recently as 2015 but said he realized his values aligned more with the Republican Party. That being said, he has a conflicted view of President Donald Trump.
“His messaging and the way he operates, I don’t think that’s very presidential. I think that we can all agree on that. But I think we can all agree that my name’s Bryan Leib, not Donald Trump,” Leib said during an interview with the Exponent in July. “I’m not a rubber stamp for anybody except the city of Philadelphia.”
Leib has not received support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican Party of Pennsylvania has focused its efforts on races in swing districts. But Leib was endorsed by the Philadelphia Republican Party.
“The fact that they put me through their vetting process and then I was endorsed locally by the party, I think says a lot about the direction the party’s going,” Leib said. “I think the party’s going in a really positive direction.”
Leib knows the numbers aren’t in his favor. But he cited an incident from his past as emblematic of his capacity to overcome adversity.
He chose to forgo attending college in favor of pursuing a career with his father’s business. He closed his first client when he was 14 years old and, by the time he was 25, was the company’s chief operating officer.
But after disagreeing with his father about the future of the business, he was pushed out.
“I got thrown a curveball by my father, who I never expected would throw me a curveball,” Leib said. “I could have sat around on my hands and sulked and [said], ‘Woe is me,’ and [asked], ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I think there was maybe a month that I did that. But I didn’t let that define me. I picked myself up. I bounced back. And I started redefining myself.”
That path led him to competing in a political race few see him winning. And it’s why he thinks he can prove the doubters wrong:
“If I can overcome that at 25 years old, then I can probably overcome anything the rest of my life.”
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