Pennsylvania Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

The race for U.S. Senate in 2022 is already crowded with candidates, but the race for governor in Pennsylvania hardly seems like it’s begun.

Both Pennsylvania races – for governor and Senate – will likely attract national attention. Though with control of the U.S. Senate on the line, the campaign to determine who succeeds retiring Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey may be more closely watched, said G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow in residence for political affairs at Millersville University.

Who’s in

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman appears to have emerged as the early front-runner for the nomination to run for the Senate seat, Madonna said.

But there’s no shortage of competition from across the state, including U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb; state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia; state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia; and Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh.

On the Republican side, Jeff Bartos, who ran for lieutenant governor unsuccessfully with Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner in 2018, and Sean Parnell, who lost to Lamb for the U.S. House in 2020, appear to be the initial front-runners, he said.

The governor’s race is far less clear.

On the Democratic side, no major candidate has announced a candidacy, though Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has not announced he’s running, has already been endorsed by term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf and seems to be the “putative favorite without doubt,” Madonna said. “I’m not saying he’s going to win the governorship, but I am saying I don’t have a clue who’s going to emerge to take him on in the primary,” he said.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who challenged and lost to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2018, has announced he’s running, as has Charlie Gerow, a prominent Republican commentator and political activist.

Who else might jump in

On the Republican side, at least three Republicans in the state Senate have expressed an interest in running for governor: State Sen. Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie; Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster; and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin. Laughlin garnered statewide publicity by becoming the first Republican lawmaker in the state to back the idea of legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. Martin, as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has been a vocal critic of Wolf’s mitigation orders, and Mastriano has gained national attention for being at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection and more recently announcing plans to try to launch an review of the 2020 election.

Senate race landscape

Fetterman has demonstrated an early advantage in fundraising, and as the only candidate that is in a statewide office, he’s got a little more name recognition and established contacts, Madonna said.

Federal campaign finance data shows that Fetterman has already raised $6.5 million for his Senate bid. He’s spent $3.5 million and has about $3 million cash on hand, according to FEC filings.

Lamb, who just announced he’s running for Senate last month, has raised $834,000 and Arkoosh has $630,000.

Fetterman has been a vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana and led a statewide listening tour to gauge support for the proposal in 2019. Based on that tour and the move by neighboring states such as New York and New Jersey to move toward legalizing marijuana, Wolf threw his support behind the idea of legalizing marijuana for adult use, as well. The proposal hasn’t moved in the General Assembly, where Republican leaders are opposed.

Fetterman isn’t the only candidate that has obvious appeal.

“We have a very interesting slate of candidates,” Madonna said.

Arkoosh, a physician and the only woman in the race, has gotten the backing of Emily’s List, a national group that supports women candidates in favor of abortion rights.

Lamb seems to appeal to more moderate members of the party. Kenyatta has been a high-profile critic of Republican efforts to question the 2020 election results, and Street has used his Senate office to advocate for gun reform and social justice issues, including joining with Laughlin to propose legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

“It’s really an interesting field, and so maybe give an early advantage to Fetterman but it’s not insurmountable,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

Considering that the field will likely be crowded with candidates, the winner won’t necessarily need to get the majority of the votes, just more than the other contenders, he said.

Governor’s race landscape

Borick said that, while it seems clear that Shapiro’s presumed candidacy has deterred other candidates from running for the Democratic nomination, other factors are at play on the Republican side.

Pennsylvania has long had a pattern of seeing the governor’s office flip from one party to the other, and after years of Wolf in office, it would seem to be strong year for Republican candidates, he said.

But moderate Republican candidates who in normal circumstances might seem like appealing statewide candidates – such as former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent – may be unwilling to throw their hat in the ring when the GOP is influenced by supporters of former President Donald Trump, he said.

While federal campaign data is available for the contenders running for Senate, there is no comparable data publicly available for the governor’s race. The state’s campaign finance law doesn’t require candidates to report their campaign finances until early in 2022, said Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Department of State.

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

Trending Video

Recommended for you