Democrats will be seeking to do something in 2022 that neither political party has ever accomplished since Pennsylvania began allowing governors to serve two terms – hold onto the governor’s office for three straight terms.

And the governor’s race may not even be the biggest statewide race in 2022.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s announced retirement, after completing his second term in office, creates an open race at a time when control of the Senate will be hanging in the balance.

There are reasons that conventional wisdom would suggest Republicans stand a good chance in the elections, said Kevan Yenerall, a political science professor at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

“it’s a mid-term year, No. 1, so the party out of power generally has a fair amount of energy,” he said.

And in the five decades since Pennsylvania first allowed governors to serve two terms, whenever a Democrat has held the governor’s office for two terms, a Republican has succeeded him and those Republicans have always been succeeded by Democrats.

With Attorney General Josh Shapiro the leading contender to win the Democratic nomination before he’s even announced his candidacy, “he’s trying to get a third straight term for the party. and no party’s done that,” Yenerall said.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, agreed that Pennsylvania election history would seem to give the edge to Republicans.

“That’s so significant, that puts the wind at the back of the Republicans,” he said.

But more recent history has shown that there’s always a first time to break the pattern, Borick said, noting that before Gov. Tom Wolf defeated former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014, no incumbent governor had lost re-election.

“It is not destiny. It’s not. We don’t have a big enough sample to say, well, that’s just the way it is,” he said.

Wolf joined Shapiro at a Thursday press conference in Narberth to blast bills approved by the state House Health Committee this week that would limit abortion rights.

Wolf noted that ,while Shapiro hasn’t even formally announced that he’s running, Shapiro has his endorsement.

“I’ve already said he’s my guy,” Wolf said at the press conference. “He’s my guy for a lot of reasons, and this (the fight over abortion rights) is one of them.”

Wolf said if the bills reach his desk, he will veto them, and Shapiro said he’s prepared to defend abortion rights in court if necessary.

Shapiro noted that Wolf’s veto pen is the only thing keeping Republicans who hold the majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly from enacting abortion restrictions.

“Let’s be very real about something, these bills will not become law in Pennsylvania, thanks to the veto pen and the courage of our great governor, Gov. Tom Wolf,” Shapiro said.

Senate race

With Shapiro the presumed frontrunner on the Democratic side for the governor’s race, most other high-profile Democrats have either declared they are running for the Senate seat or seem to be considering whether to run for the Senate seat.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has already announced his bid for Senate. So has state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb is a possible Senate candidate, and state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, is considered another likely contender for the seat, Yenerall said.

Yenerall added that the race could be entirely upended if one of the four women who were elected to Congress in the suburbs around Philadelphia in 2018 – Susan Wild, Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlihan or Mary Gay Scanlon – decide to run for Senate.

“That could reshape the race overnight,” he said.

Wild told Roll Call last week that she doesn’t plan to run for Senate and intends to seek reelection to her seat.

Lamb may be particularly motivated to run for Senate since there’s a good chance that his district will be eliminated in the state’s redistricting process, Yenerall said. The U.S. Census formally announced in April that due to population shifts Pennsylvania will lose one of its 18 seats in Congress.

On the Republican side, Jeff Bartos – who ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket with Scott Wagner, who lost to Wolf in 2016 – and Sean Parnell, who lost to Lamb in 2020, have announced they are running for Senate.

Potential GOP governor candidates

Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta – who lost to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey by 650,000 votes in 2018 – has announced that he is running to get the Republican nomination for governor. In addition, Jason Richey, an attorney in Pittsburgh, has announced he’s seeking the nomination.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, has publicly claimed that Trump has encouraged him to run for governor, but Mastriano has not formally announced his candidacy. U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Luzerne, has also been exploring a run for governor.

Meuser represents the same district that Barletta had represented.

Borick said other Republicans may be sitting on the fence trying to determine which race to enter.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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