GOP’s Crowded PA Gubernatorial Field: A Help Or Hindrance?

With Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf term-limited in a state that narrowly went to Joe Biden in 2020, both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to best position themselves for the 2022 gubernatorial race. Democrats have rallied around the commonwealth’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro; on the Republican side, it remains unclear whether a sizeable primary field will help or inhibit the party’s efforts to secure the top office.

More than a dozen Republicans are currently running in the Keystone State – with announcements coming from still more candidacies. Polls have indicated former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, state Sen. President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (pictured, at right), and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (who has yet to announce) lead the pack. It’s a crowded and diverse field, whereas Democrats have yet to put forth someone notable in opposition to Shapiro.

“Josh Shapiro has cleared the Democratic field because he is a thoroughbred, a bona fide statewide vote-getter, and a battle-tested campaigner who inspires confidence in all corners of the party,” Michael Bronstein, a state-based Democratic political consultant, told me. Bronstein added that Shapiro is “not exactly the type of person anyone should want to run against.”

Still, Shapiro is noticeably vulnerable. After all, the state’s chief law enforcement officer – along with ranking Democrats such as Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner – has drawn ire from Pennsylvanians amid surging crime that has overwhelmed cities, especially Philadelphia, which is experiencing its deadliest year on record. Shapiro, moreover, has drawn criticism for botching the prosecution of a significant drug case in northeastern Pennsylvania. And following the pandemic’s state-enforced lockdowns and restrictions, Philadelphia is on pace for a record year in fatal drug overdoses. The opioid epidemic has intensified throughout the state, including the Pittsburgh region.

If Republicans aim to strategically oppose Shapiro and the failed progressive policies that have let crime and drug use soar, one can only wonder if it’s time to narrow the party’s gubernatorial primary field. The first GOP debate is set to take place on Jan. 5 at Dickinson College in Carlisle. Voters may benefit from watching fewer candidates to get a sense of the most effective and winning message for a state navigating an uncertain future. Insiders have told me that several current candidates have no chance next November.

Polling groups have previously released data suggesting that Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race is a toss-up. The question is whether it will stay tight as Republicans duke it out among themselves. Will noncompetitive candidates distract from the party’s messaging?

A Pennsylvania spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

According to Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, the crowded GOP field situation is “really a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of thing.” (Lee disclosed in a statement that he has been contracted by GOP hopeful Barletta to do polling).

“On the negative side, this kind of a contested primary means spending limited resources that I agree will ultimately need to be saved for an expensive general election versus Shapiro, who will be well-stocked, well-funded, and ready for battle,” Lee told me. “Pennsylvania has six media markets – and we are an expensive state to compete in from a paid media perspective. So, a divided and bloody GOP primary definitely benefits the Democratic nominee.”

Lee, however, believes the multitude of candidates gives voters a wide range of options and the GOP an opportunity to determine who has the best chance to win.

The pollster’s view was echoed by Mark Harris, a founding partner at ColdSpark Media, a political consulting group headquartered in Pittsburgh.

Harris, who is being retained by Corman’s campaign, believes that Shapiro’s vulnerability on issues like crime and taxes gives Republicans leeway. He does not see the crowded field as a problem early on, but rather as a way for voters to determine which candidate is most appealing and most likely to stand up to progressivism.

“I think when all is said and done, Democrats will look back and wish they hadn’t given Shapiro – a historically weak candidate – a free pass,” said Harris. “The primary competition is one where we’re going to have a strong candidate come out the other end, who is going to be forced to raise money and run a real race.”

“Pennsylvania is a purple state, anything can happen.”

The veteran consultant added, “I think there are so many people running because everyone sees it’s a good Republican year, right?”

The filing deadline for nomination petitions is March 9.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

Gabe Kaminsky is a senior contributor for The Federalist. His work has appeared in RealClearPolitics, the New York Post, Fox News, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter.

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