I have not been one to hide my concerns in any race when it comes to the state of my party. I am one who airs on the side of caution and of what some would call “doomerism” whenever the Republican Party is in a tight race. This might be because most of the elections I have followed closely in my life have been close. It may also be due to a lifelong fandom of the Washington Capitals, whose struggles with success are well documented.
So it should come as a bit of a surprise to some that I am perfectly content with the GOP field in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. To me, no one truly problematic seems set to run. I am however, much more concerned about the Republican field for Governor in my home state.
The Struggles against Shapiro
First, it’s important to realize the strength of the Democrats likely candidate in this race. While there are still some lingering questions about him, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is a incredibly strong candidate for Democrats. Shapiro won a close race for the office in 2016 while President Trump was winning the seat. He was also the best-performing Democrat in 2020. Part of this was his major overperformances in the northeastern part of the state. Shapiro won Luzerne County this past year, the only Democrat to do so. The fact he could bring that to the Governor’s race is uniquely dangerous for the Republican Party.
Shapiro also brings the experience of being a statewide officer and one with a large role. Being Attorney General of a state has its perks – just ask Kamala Harris. And Shapiro has taken advantage of that. With high-profile cases regarding child abuse within the Pittsburgh Catholic Churches, Shapiro vaulted himself to a level that not many can get to in Pennsylvania. He brought the AG office out of scandal after the term of Kathleen Kane. And he defended the state in certain cases against the Trump administration, something primary voters will love.
For all these reasons, Shapiro would be a tough lift for any Republican candidate. Only one other person could match Shapiro in name recognition, and that person passed on this race. The field that is slowly growing for the Republicans in this race, just don’t seem to have the chops to counter all of Shapiro’s strengths.
No Toomey, More Problems
It has long been an open secret that Pat Toomey was considering running for Governor in 2022. After all, Toomey had limited himself to two terms in the Senate when he ran in 2010. After winning re-election in 2016, it was believed that would be his final campaign for the United States Senate. However, he was continuing to raise money, and a PAC that had connections to him ran some ads against Josh Shapiro in 2020. This did seem to point that Toomey would run for Governor, likely clearing the field for the state GOP. However, Toomey announced he would retire from politics completely in late October.
Some will disagree with my analysis here. They might argue that Toomey – yes, that Pat Toomey – is now too moderate for a normal Pennsylvania Republican. The one who ran as a Tea Partier before the Tea Party in 2004 and flew its banner proudly in 2010. I don’t think they could deny the fact that Toomey would have been the only one to match most of Shapiro’s strengths. High name recognition, past strength in an area moving away from his party (this being the Lehigh Valley for Toomey), and the ability to mostly clear a field. This would have made it a lot easier for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. They could focus more on the Senate race while Toomey and his team took over the Governor race. Losing that does hurt and having two very open primaries creates more division in a party already pulling at the seams.
The Shaping Field
So, with no field clearer, the field becomes wide open for anyone to get into. And that field does not look great. Lou Barletta seems set to have a run at the nomination. He said he would make a full decision in the coming weeks last week and led an early primary poll conducted by Susquehanna Polling. Barletta would not be the worst candidate the party could field, and his connections to the northeastern part of the state would cancel out remaining strength for Shapiro. However, Barletta has many weaknesses too. He has gone all-in on the Trump brand and is still coming off criticisms of a weak campaign in 2018 for Senate.
Barletta is certainly not the worst candidate the GOP could nominate though however. That honor would be bestowed onto State Senator Doug Mastriano. Mastriano has made a name for himself since being elected to the State Senate in 2019. He has waved the populist flag high since his election, and was the main cog in promoting the lie that there was Election Fraud in Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential race. That alone makes him toxic to multiple key parts of the state. And I’m not just speaking about the Philadelphia collars – those places are gone to Republicans at this point. I’m talking about crucial swing voters in places like Erie, Bucks, Northampton, and Centre Counties. Places where Republicans have to win or be even to win the state. Mastriano would be unable too do any of that, and the fact he was second in an early poll concerns me.
Also shaping up to run are Bill McSwain and Congressman Dan Meuser. McSwain was originally believed to be looking at a Senate run, but the formation of a state-level PAC means he seems to be headed towards a guberatorial run. McSwain would be a decent candidate, however, I believe he would be a better fit for the Senate race. His message of “Law and Order” as a former US Attorney just doesn’t match up as well against Shapiro. Meuser, on the other hand, brings solid self fundraising potential and not much else. A current two-term Congressman, his seat is likely to be chopped up in redistricting. While his ability to self fund would be good, he does not bring much else to the table.
Why I’m Concerned
Some of you are probably thinking that it’s a bit early to judge the primary field, and that’s probably fair to say. But, I learned my lesson in 2018. A weak Gubernatorial candidate can drag down everyone in Pennsylvania. Scott Wagner drug down Barletta, multiple state legislative candidates and arguably congressional candidates as well. Without a field clearer, it allows for problem candidates like Mastriano to get a foothold in a primary. And that will have consequences if he or someone similar is the nominee. Pennsylvania republicans cannot take that risk again or they risk blowing what could be a good year for the Republican Party nationwide.