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Growing Pennsylvania GOP governor's field puts nomination 'up for grabs'

Matt Rourke

The big field of Republicans running for governor of Pennsylvania is increasingly unsettled, with more candidates joining it, few leading party figures picking favorites and persistent talk that one of the most senior state Republican lawmakers may run.

Perhaps the most-asked question among Republican lawmakers, donors and strategists is whether Jake Corman, the state Senate’s president pro tempore, will declare his candidacy for governor.

In a brief interview in a Capitol corridor, Corman would not say whether he is considering running, or if it had crossed his mind.

“It’s crossed my mind that we need a good candidate, someone who can win,” Corman said.

But Corman, 57, the son of a state senator and whose district includes Penn State’s main campus in Happy Valley, suggested that, even if he does decide to run, he won’t talk about it until after the municipal election on Nov. 2.

“We’ll start talking about 2022 after the election,” Corman said.

Corman may be waiting, but in the space of a few weeks three more candidates, all from suburban Philadelphia, have said they are running.

One, Guy Ciarrocchi, who just stepped down as president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, said the big Republican primary field did not dissuade him from joining it.

That’s because, he said, “nobody was talking about what we are all talking about at our kitchen tables,” which is reopening businesses after the pandemic-related shutdowns and keeping them open.

The latest to enter is Dave White, who runs a large plumbing and HVAC firm in Delaware County and is a former county councilman who lost reelection in 2017. He has strong connections to blue-collar labor unions, is a third-generation union steamfitter and employs union steamfitters, plumbers and sheet metal workers.

White, who has helped marshal building-trades union support for Republican candidates behind the scenes, said he has traveled the state to meet party figures and is putting $2 million of his own money into the race.

He is also expected to have support from prominent party donors and fundraisers from southeastern Pennsylvania.

He said he will make a formal announcement in the near future.

At the outset, he is framing himself as the blue-collar candidate in the race, a champion of working families and an outsider who is not afraid to “take on the system.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, also said this week that he plans to declare his candidacy soon.

Laughlin, who in March had said he was considering running, may be the most centrist candidate.

He has expressed support for raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, and is bucking party orthodoxy — not to mention practically every other candidate for governor — in bluntly scorning former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about a rigged election.

On the Democratic side, two-term state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said he will run, and his presumed candidacy has thus far cleared the field of rivals.

While he hasn’t formally declared his candidacy, he may soon, in mid-October.

Shapiro told attendees at a fundraiser Monday in Philadelphia that he could have more to say about his candidacy in the next couple weeks, his campaign confirmed.

The Republican field is double-digits deep, and includes Lou Barletta, a former Hazleton mayor and four-term member of Congress who was the Republican nominee in his 2018 loss to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

Nobody has nailed down a critical mass of support and, with such a big and growing field just a few months before the state GOP’s winter meeting, it’s hard to see the party giving an endorsement, said Arnold McClure, the Republican Party chair from Huntingdon County.

McClure sees no favorite in the race, and few party leaders picking favorites.

“It’s way too early,” McClure said. “We feel there are too many people running, even though many of them are real good candidates. The governor’s nomination is up for grabs.”