New Democratic Contender Emerges for Pennsylvania Senate Seat

Former Rep. Chris Carney says he's been approached about running against Sen. Pat Toomey and is considering a campaign.

Former Rep. Chris Carney said Saturday that he is "weighing" a campaign for the Senate in Pennsylvania, a move that would set up a Democratic primary collision with his party's 2010 Senate nominee, Joe Sestak, who has already been preparing for another campaign for almost two years.

"I have been encouraged by many folks who have approached me about running, and I've had many conversations with people across the commonwealth," Carney told National Journal. "I am taking it all in and weighing what's best for my family and the people of Pennsylvania."

The onetime House member, who represented a district in the state's conservative northeast corner from 2007 to 2011, said he would decide about a campaign "fairly soon."

Carney's interest in the Senate comes as a surprise. For months, Democratic operatives keen to find an alternative to Sestak did not include Carney on their short list of potential candidates, and he's been largely absent from public life since losing his House seat in 2010. Although affable and well liked within the party, Carney is a former member of the Blue Dog Coalition who opposes abortion-rights and voted against "cap-and-trade" legislation in 2009—positions that would not endear him to a liberal Democratic primary electorate. In 2009, Republicans even tried to persuade him to switch parties.

But Carney's entrance would nonetheless give Sestak his first credible primary challenger, at a time when many Democratic operatives in the state had started to believe Sestak would run unopposed. Other would-be opponents, such as outgoing state Treasurer Rob McCord, former Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and Rep. Matt Cartwright, have passed on a Senate bid. And party insiders now believe another potential candidate, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, is no longer interested in a campaign, after once considering it.

And while Sestak—who officially started running against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in 2013—would begin the race as a clear-cut favorite, he's disliked by many party leaders who consider him difficult to work with. Their strained relationship might give Carney an opening to raise money and collect key endorsements that might normally be earmarked for a repeat nominee.

In 2010, Carney lost his Republican-leaning district to now-Rep. Tom Marino amid the year's historic conservative wave. He had won the seat during the 2006 Democratic wave, defeating scandal-plagued former GOP Rep. Don Sherwood that year.