Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, has her eye on the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Patrick Toomey.
Although the election to fill the spot will not be held until next year, Arkoosh, a Democrat, is joining a long list of candidates already in line for the job, chief of whom is Lt. Gov. John Fetternan.
Arkoosh, a doctor who lives in Springfield, has led the county’s response to the COVID 19. Some of her other accomplishments as commissioner include increasing services for children and veterans, as well as opening 10 new trails.
Meanwhile, Fetterman, who some wags call the big kahuna in this race, is shaping up as the fellow to beat in the early running. Berwood A. Yost, a professor and director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, cited a March poll of Democrats his organization conducted which showed Fetterman has strong name recognition and support among both progressive and centrist Democrats. Some 58 percent of self-described progressives have a favorable impression of him versus 1 percent unfavorable; 56 percent of centrists also like him, with 9 percent unfavorable. He’s also raised considerable amounts of money–$3.9 million in three months—which is de riguer in a statewide race. Fetterman, ran for the Senate in 2014 and came in third, so he has that experience under his belt, said Yost.
Arkoosh “does not have a statewide profile that’s recognizable to Democratic voters,” he said. A successful candidate needs to raise large sums and be able to excite supporters, Yost noted.
But Arkoosh has her own advantages. For example, her gender is likely a benefit in an era when Democrats are spurning White men and when women and minorities make up a large part of the party base. And she’s helped by her support in southeastern Pennsylvania with its large number of Democratic voters and afluent donors.
While Yost has yet to poll on Arkoosh since she’s just announced, there could be room in the centrist track. But there’s more energy coming from the progressive wing of the party, and it’s a question of “who is going to get out and vote.” Yost does not foresee a huge turnout in the 2022 primary, saying primary voters tend to be the most passionate about politics.
Another advantage that Arkoosh might have is a large field of candidates. That could divide support for Fetterman, allowing her to prevail.
Joe Foster, chair of the Montgomery County Democrats, said Arkoosh has a lot of support in the southeastern Pennsylvania region because of her handling of the county’s COVID-19 response.
“I think Val will be a formidable candidate,” said Foster. “I know she has a broad base of support throughout the southeastern counties and I believe she has earned respect as county commissioner for the work she’s done, especially in this COVID crisis.”
Asked whether he will support Arkoosh, Foster said the Montco Democratic Committee will not be voting on which candidate to endorse until February 2022 and that this is “very early” in the campaign process.
“I believe Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh’s entry is one of several yet to come,” said Charlie Gerow, a communications executive. “You have three candidates from the southeastern corner of the state already, with the potential of more to come. There is already one well-funded candidate from western Pennsylvania candidate, who may benefit from a crowded southeastern field.”
Jeff Jubelirer, vice president of Bellevue Communications, agreed it’s very early in the race and that many more folks might join the fray. However, Arkoosh has a high profile in the Delaware Valley area as county commissioners’ chair, and being a physician in an era of COVID also gives her a boost.
However, the names of other women have been bandied about as possible candidates, including U.S. Reps. Madeline Dean and Chrissy Houlahan, he said. If they run they would be vying for the same voters as Arkoosh, which might help more the left-leaning Fetterman or Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia state Rep. who is also in the race.
Another possible Democratic candidate being discussed among politicos is U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb from outside Pittsburgh. Lamb would compete with Arkoosh for the more moderate Democratic voters, Julelirer said.
Lamb “would be very formidable. It all depends on who turns out,” he said. “People who come out in primaries are the diehards,” and that sometimes leads to more extreme candidates winning. But in the general election, Pennsylvanians tend to prefer people “not too far to either extreme,” he said.
Also, to win this primary, not to mention the general election, any candidate will need the backing of well-heeled donors.
“There is all kinds of money coming in,” said Jubelirer. “We’re a divided state.”