As a Pennsylvanian who has been actively involved since, um, high school in Pennsylvania politics, I have to say I have never in all my years since seen anything close to the chaos that is ending (hopefully) with the Pennsylvania Republican primary this very day of May 17 in the Year of Our Lord 2022.
As you read this, two major races — one for the GOP nomination for governor of Pennsylvania, the other for nomination to an open seat in the U.S. Senate — are in play. If you live here and have a television, it is safe to say you cannot escape airwaves that are swamped with commercials accusing candidate X (pick one, any one) of assorted sins.
But what does it all mean, you ask?
The polls of the moment give the nod in the governor’s race to state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who was just endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
In the Senate race, the Trump endorsement has gone to Dr. Mehmet Oz. Yet the Senate race is much more volatile, with polls showing a serious competition between Dr. Oz, former Bush 43 aide and businessman David McCormick, and, in a dramatic last-minute surge, commentator Kathy Barnette.
As usual in these types of races, the better one does in the polls, the more attacks the candidate in question attracts from his or her opponents.
To begin with, the headlines notwithstanding, there are plenty of candidates in each race.
In the governor’s race, former Rep. Lou Barletta, businessman Charlie Gerow, and others are swinging it out. And here’s where things get really interesting. Two gubernatorial candidates, state Sen. Jake Corman and former Rep. Melissa Hart, have just dropped out — to endorse Barletta.
Why? That would be the certain Democrat nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Hart said that “the stakes are too high” to split votes in the primary, and hence produce a candidate who could not win the general election.
Notice the underlying similarity from Corman in his withdrawal statement:
Lou Barletta is a hardworking former mayor and congressman who supports the ‘America First’ Agenda. He’s a tough, experienced and principled leader who can win in the fall. As Senate president pro tempore and a leader of our party, I believe it’s my duty to put the Republican Party first. There’s a tremendous opportunity to do something that we’ve only done once in the last two decades — elect a Republican as governor of Pennsylvania. The only thing that will prevent this is if we nominate someone who cannot possibly win in the fall, and that’s a real possibility with nine candidates in this race.
Catch that sentence? This one: “The only thing that will prevent this is if we nominate someone who cannot possibly win in the fall, and that’s a real possibility with nine candidates in this race.”
Let me translate.
These folks — and more — believe that Mastriano cannot win. And that any disunity shown on primary day will nominate Mastriano — who then will lose to Shapiro in the fall.
Over in the Senate race, there is a similar situation unfolding. For a considerable period, Dr. Oz and McCormick were seen as the front-runners, Oz because of his television fame and Trump endorsement, McCormick because of his cash and ability to run a serious media campaign.
Then, suddenly, the Kathy Barnette rocket took off, making this a seemingly sudden three-way race. And like clockwork, Barnette has come under attack with the usual campaign missiles of old tweets and TV clips. With the argument against her being that she can’t win.
Meanwhile, businessman Jeff Bartos is still present and accounted for in the Senate race, as is former ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands and lawyer and former Pennsylvania state boxing commissioner George Bochetto.
Then there’s this.
Gubernatorial candidate Mastriano is, as noted, endorsed by Trump. Kathy Barnette is not — that Senate endorsement going to Dr. Oz. Yet this past weekend, Mastriano and Barnette held a rally — together.
What’s going on?
What’s really going on, I would suggest, is that there are those in the Republican establishment in the Pennsylvania GOP who cannot abide either — and both are not only highly aware of this but relish their role as potential Trump-style outsiders who are determined to bring change to the traditionally staid GOP.
Who will win in each race?
Here’s the catch. A recent Fox News poll shows that 18 percent of GOP voters in the Senate race are undecided. And also recently a Franklin and Marshall College poll showed that an amazing 34 percent of GOP voters were undecided on the governor’s race.
With that many undecided voters out there, it is safe to say that anything can happen. But whatever happens, know that the subtext in both races is the direction of both the Pennsylvania Republican Party — and beyond that the direction — and the presidential nominee of — the national GOP.
It’s Trump versus the insider GOP crowd. Again.