Primary Preview: Here’s who’s running for Pa. governor

One Democrat and seven Republicans are vying to replace term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf

By: - May 15, 2022 6:30 am

Pennsylvania’s high-profile U.S. Senate contest might be grabbing all the headlines, but the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who will leave office in January 2023 after serving the maximum of two, four-year terms, also is a very big deal. The race has taken on added urgency with last week’s release of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion toppling Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to an abortion.

That’s because, in addition to wielding significant executive and regulatory authority, the commonwealth’s chief executive has the power to sign or veto legislation. And, in the case of Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, there’s been a one-man bulwark against Republican-authored bills seeking to restrict abortion rights.

The governor also is responsible for proposing an annual budget, which is the starting point, but far from the finishing point, on how much the commonwealth spend each year on host of such policy priorities as public education, transportation, social welfare programs, agriculture, and economic development. A final product must be negotiated with, and approved by, the General Assembly by midnight on June 30, which is when the state closes its books on the fiscal year.

Just like the Senate, the Governor’s Mansion can be a launching point for greater political ambitions. In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, then Republican Gov. Tom Ridge resigned to become President George W. Bush’s first homeland security director.

Here’s a look at the candidates who will be on the ballot on May 17.

The Democrat:

This one’s easy: Current Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, 48, of Montgomery County, is running without

opposition in this year’s nominating contest. A former state lawmaker and elected Montgomery County commissioner, Shapiro has sued the former Trump administration over environmentalabortion policies; has negotiated compromises with health care giants and police unions; argues this history of taking on “big fights” makes him a strong choice.

He is a supporter of public education; has called for increasing Pennsylvania’s minimum wage; has vowed, like Wolf, to defend abortion rights, supports legalizing recreational marijuana and expunging the records of those with non-violent marijuana-related offenses, and while supporting fighting climate change, he has not called for an end to natural gas exploration.

The Republicans

Lou Barletta

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta (WikiMedia Commons).

Barletta, 66, is a former four-term member of Congress from Luzerne County, and the former mayor of Hazleton, where he made national headlines for his hardline policies against undocumented immigrants in the northeastern Pennsylvania city. He was among former President Donald Trump’s earliest congressional backers; has argued he can win over Trump-y Democrats, and says he’s best positioned to win the nomination.

While he has said there is “very little light” between the Republican aspirants on matters of policy, Barletta, who opposes abortion and would sign legislation restricting it if he’s elected, has said he would support exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of a pregnant person is in danger.

Barletta has vowed to repeal Pennsylvania’s mail-in balloting law, noting, with a bit of a rhetorical flourish at an April debate, that “We know dead people have been voting in Pa. all our lives. Now they don’t even have to leave the cemetery. We have a process to use absentee ballots. We also have to have voter ID. We need to bring integrity to our elections.”

Jake Corman

Corman, 57, withdrew from the GOP nominating contest on May 12, throwing his support to Barletta. However, his name will still appear on the primary ballot.

The Centre County Republican currently serves as the president pro tempore of the Republican state Senate. Earlier the Senate Republican floor leader, his fingerprints have been on every major piece of legislation to clear the GOP-controlled Senate during the Wolf administration. He’s prided himself on working to block the Democratic administration’s initiatives. And he’s made headlines during the campaign for calling for the impeachment of Philadelphia’s Democratic District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Joe Gale

Gale, a 32-year-old Montgomery County Commissioner; voted against certifying 2020 election results; vocal critic of Republican establishment and mail-in voting; supports liquor privatization. He’s running as a ticket with his brother, U.S. Senate candidate Sean Gale. You can read the Capital-Star’s full Q+A with Joe Gale here.

Charlie Gerow

Gerow, 66, of Cumberland County, is a veteran Republican activist, political consultant, and commentator. He is a self-described conservative “happy warrior.” You can read the Capital-Star’s full Q+A with Gerow here.

Melissa Hart

Hart, 59, is a former Republican member of Congress and state senator from western Pennsylvania. She wants to be a negotiator-in-chief to cut taxes and expand school choice. She doesn’t like bureaucracy, and opposes abortion. She withdrew from the race on Friday and endorsed Barletta. Like Corman, her name will stay on the primary ballot.

You can read the Capital-Star’s full Q+A with Hart here.

Doug Mastriano

Mastriano, 58, is a former U.S. Army colonel who currently serves as a state senator from Franklin County. He rose to prominence opposing Wolf’s pandemic shutdown policies in 2020, and has spread baseless claims of fraud about the 2020 election. He was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, where video has shown him getting closer than he claimed. A fixture on social media and conservative cable, he’s argued he’s the grassroots candidate for conservative change. He opposes abortion rights and would not support exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of a pregnant person.

Bill McSwain

McSwain, 52, is veteran and former federal prosecutor for the Philadelphia region; running on “law and order” and supporting school choice. Trump went out of his way to tell his supporters not to vote for McSwain, whom he called “a coward” who did ” did “absolutely nothing” to investigate Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud after the 2020 election. He also opposes abortion rights, but would, like Barletta, support exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the pregnant person.

Dave White

White, 60, is aa former Delaware County councilmember and a union pipefitter who built a successful HVAC contracting business. He also supports the elimination of mail-in balloting and opposes abortion rights. Like Mastriano, White also opposes any exception for rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant person.

Nche Zama

Zama, 65, is a political newcomer and Poconos heart surgeon who immigrated to the U.S. from Cameroon as a child. He has argued that Pennsylvania is “dying” and needs a fresh face to tackle education and COVID-19 recovery. You can read the Capital-Star’s full Q+A with Zama here.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.