U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a former small-city mayor in Pennsylvania who shot to national prominence by trying to combat illegal immigration through tough municipal laws, announced Tuesday he will run for the seat held two-term Democrat Bob Casey.
The Republican congressman, a staunch and early supporter of President Donald Trump and co-chair of his presidential campaign in Pennsylvania, said in a campaign video that Casey is being bankrolled by "the most extreme liberal special interest groups in the country."
"Pennsylvania deserves better than an obstructionist senator," he said.
Democrats hit back, attacking Barletta's support of Trump-backed legislation to overhaul the health system.
"If Congressman Lou Barletta thinks voting to raise health care costs for seniors, gut protections for those with preexisting conditions, and send premiums skyrocketing will earn him a promotion, he's in for a rude awakening," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele.
Barletta's entry into the race was widely expected after The Associated Press reported last month that he had relayed his plans to GOP officials and activists. He's the most recognizable among a half-dozen would-be GOP challengers to Casey, who's seeking his third six-year term.
Barletta was mayor of Hazleton at a time when its Hispanic population was surging from under 5 percent in 2000 to nearly 40 percent in 2010. He argued that many of the recent arrivals were in the country illegally, bringing drugs, crime and gangs to his city of 25,000 and overwhelming police, schools and hospitals.
Accusing the federal government of failing to enforce immigration laws, Barletta got City Council to approve a pair of immigration measures that would have denied permits to businesses that hired people in the country illegally and fined landlords who rented to them. His strategy was copied by dozens of other cities across the U.S., but the laws were never enforced before the U.S. Supreme Court struck them down in 2014.
Barletta's visibility on the immigration issue helped him politically, and he defeated 26-year incumbent Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski on his third try to win a seat in Congress in 2010.
Barletta, 61, was among the first members of Congress to publicly endorse Trump. He appeared on stage at the billionaire businessman's rallies, served on the executive committee of Trump's transition team and, in Congress, introduced a bill to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to help Trump fulfill a key campaign promise.
Trump, in turn, encouraged him to run against Casey, 57, the son of a former governor who has held statewide elective office for two decades.
Democrats hold a 4-3 registration edge over Republicans in Pennsylvania, but Trump overcame that to become the first Republican since 1988 to capture Pennsylvania's electoral votes in the presidential race. Casey is one of 10 Democrats nationwide defending a seat next year in a state won by Trump.