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Lou Barletta wins Republican nomination in the 2018 Pennsylvania Senate race

He will face incumbent Sen. Bob Casey in the general election.

Lou Barletta
Republican Lou Barletta will face Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in the 2018 Pennsylvania Senate election.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Rep. Lou Barletta won the Republican primary in the 2018 Pennsylvania Senate race on Tuesday night, setting up a November showdown with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.

Barletta topped state Rep. Jim Christiana in the primary election. He will enter the general election as the underdog to Casey, who was first elected in 2006.

Pennsylvania will be one of the key states in determining which party controls the Senate after the 2018 midterm elections. It’s one of 10 Senate seats that Democrats are defending in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. If Democrats have any hope of retaking the upper chamber, they need to hold on to seats like Pennsylvania while also picking up at least two Senate seats currently held by Republicans.

Barletta was the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate in Pennsylvania, so his victory is theirs. But Pennsylvania still maintains a light-blue tinge, especially in 2018 with animosity toward Trump animating Democratic voters, and Casey should be considered the favorite to win the fall election.

Who is Lou Barletta?

Barletta has represented Pennsylvania’s 11th District, stretching from Harrisburg in the south to Scranton in the northeast, since 2011. He served as the mayor of Hazleton before he was elected to Congress.

He is considered to be generally more moderate than other House Republicans, though he almost always toes the party line on major votes. He backed the House’s Obamacare repeal bill (Pennsylvania is a Medicaid expansion state) and the tax law last year; he voted in favor of a 20-week abortion ban and to crack down on undocumented immigration.

Barletta endorsed Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, served on Trump’s transition team, and was reportedly considered for an administration position, including secretary of labor. He had Trump’s support during the primary campaign.

In the most explosive allegation of the GOP primary, CNN reported that Barletta had done an interview with a publication that trafficked in Holocaust denial as well as other fringe groups. Barletta’s campaign said he was unaware of the beliefs of the people he had come into contact with.

In a preview of his general election message, Barletta’s campaign has already aired a television ad promising that he would “give President Trump the help he needs” if he were to defeat Casey in November.

The 2018 Pennsylvania Senate race, briefly explained

Casey has deep roots in Pennsylvania: His dad was governor in the late 1980s and early ’90s. That, paired with what is expected to be an overriding anti-Trump national climate, should give him a distinct advantage over Barletta.

Trump’s win here in 2016 was shocking, but he’s fallen off: 42 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval, according to Gallup. Casey is in good shape: 42 percent approval, 32 percent disapproval, according to Morning Consult.

The Cook Political Report and University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball both think the Pennsylvania Senate race is a Likely Democratic win. It’s way too early to take the polling too seriously, but the surveys we do have show Casey leading Barletta by 16 points or more in a two-way matchup.

Kyle Kondik at UVA previously told Vox that Senate incumbents in the out-of-power party have won reelection 91 percent of the time since 1914, when popular elections for Senate seats began. Casey’s advantage is as simple as that.