PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Launching his gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general sought to tie the crowded Republican field to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn last year’s election.

Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary so far, said Republican gubernatorial candidates are ”peddling the Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump and are “doing real damage to our democracy.”

“They’re passing far-right litmus tests, and they’re pandering to the special interests,” he said in a campaign kickoff speech in Pittsburgh.

The Republican Governors Association shot back that Shapiro would continue what it called the “failed policies” of the incumbent governor, Democrat Tom Wolf. It said Wolf’s COVID-19 pandemic policies have “endangered Pennsylvania seniors, crushed the economy, and left the Keystone State with an unemployment rate well above the national average.”

“It’s no wonder Shapiro is the Democrats’ hand-picked candidate, who else will carry on the failed policies that have left the commonwealth behind?” the Republicans’ statement said.

Wolf is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

The state is closely divided between the two major parties and the governor’s race is certain to be fiercely contested, as will the race to fill retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat.

The GOP candidates for governor include state senators, business leaders, a former congressman, a former federal prosecutor under Trump, and others, and the field could yet expand.

In a campaign video, Shapiro said the Republican candidates “want to lead us down a dark path, undermine free and fair elections, strip away voting rights and permanently divide us.” The video showed images of the Capitol riot and a newspaper headline about GOP state lawmakers’ ongoing “forensic investigation” of last year’s presidential election. Shapiro’s office has gone to court to block a Republican-controlled Senate committee’s subpoena to state election officials.

Shapiro did not mention any Republican candidates by name, either in his speech or the video, but Trump and GOP allies have pressed baseless claims that Democrats cheated in the presidential election.

Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a prominent Trump backer who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said through a spokesman that “the only people responsible for what happened on January 6th are those who trespassed and caused damage.”

The spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, said Shapiro “stands in the way of reforming our election system, even though millions of Pennsylvanians have lost faith in the integrity of our elections.”

In Pittsburgh, Shapiro touted his record as attorney general, highlighting his office’s battles with the Trump campaign after the 2020 election and his work to intervene in a dispute between two major health care providers, UMPC and Highmark.

His tenure also produced a groundbreaking grand jury report on child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, which he said revealed a “conspiracy and coverup that went from dioceses here in Pennsylvania all the way to the Vatican.”

Shapiro served as a state representative and chair of the Montgomery County commissioners board before winning election as the state’s top prosecutor in 2016 with no law enforcement background and little practical courtroom experience.

Shapiro, 48, was scheduled to hold a rally in his native Montgomery County later Wednesday and then embark on a statewide bus tour.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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