Pennsylvania: The Likely Center of the Political Universe in 2022

Dr. Mehmet Oz
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 20: Dr. Mehmet Oz attends The 2022 Champions Of Jewish Values Gala at Carnegie Hall on January 20, 2022 in New York City. A TV personality and former faculty member at Columbia University, Dr. Oz is running as a Republican for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

The political swing state of Pennsylvania promises to be one of the most important battlegrounds to watch in the 2022 Midterm Elections. The Keystone State will play host to several critical races, including those for Governor and Senate. Current Democratic Governor Tom Wolf can not seek reelection due to term limits. Therefore, a field of no less than 17 candidates (including 15 Republicans) is vying for the Governor’s mansion. On the Senate side, incumbent GOP Senator Pat Toomey is not seeking reelection to a third term.

So, a remarkable field of 24 candidates has developed. This includes current Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz. In addition to the landmark races for Governor and Senate, Pennsylvania will also see several toss-up congressional races occur. One will be in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, where Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R) is up for reelection. These, among other races, will very likely place Pennsylvania at the center of the political universe come November.

The Race For Governor

Pennsylvania, as mentioned, will host a highly competitive Governor’s race in 2022. Current term-limited Governor Tom Wolf has already endorsed Pennsylvania Democratic Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, as his heir apparent. Shapiro rose to fame by winning two statewide races, including in a tough year for P.A. Democrats in 2016. Additionally, Shapiro vehemently pushed back on former President Trump’s calls to review and overturn the results of the 2020 Election.

Now, Shapiro is in a field almost by himself, with his only competitor being Pittsburgh Pastor Tega Swann. He has begun to blanket the airwaves with political commercials, a similar strategy that worked so well for Wolf. Now, Shapiro finds himself as the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for Governor. However, his general election campaign may be tougher, especially considering 2022 is shaping up to be a good Republican year.

On the Republican side, 15 declared candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, with more still considering bids. The GOP sees 8 years of Democratic control in Harrisburg as giving them a good shot to take back Pennsylvania. Additionally, many Republicans are angered by Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 policies, including early lockdowns at the outset of the Pandemic. Some notable candidates currently in the race include former Congressman and 2018 GOP Senate nominee Lou Barletta and State Senator Doug Mastriano.

The latter has been a proponent of a statewide recount of the 2020 Election Results, angering many Democrats and already helping to fuel campaign fodder for Josh Shapiro. Other candidates include President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate Jake Corman, former Montgomery County Congresswoman Melissa Hart, and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain. The field is extremely fluid at this point, but early polling shows Mastriano and Barletta as favorites for the nomination.

The Race For Senate

While many candidates are running for Governor, Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat has attracted even more hopefuls. The list of 24 candidates (12 Democrats, 12 Republicans) includes many high-profile and celebrity names. On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Congressman Conor Lamb of Western P.A., Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh, and State Senator Malcolm Kenyatta are the most notable names. Fetterman, the most well-known candidate, has raised a remarkable $12 million for his Senate bid, dwarfing all other candidates.

The Lieutenant Governor, who was also the former Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, is seen as a more Progressive candidate promising to eliminate the Legislative Filibuster should he be elected. His closest rival, Congressman Lamb, has preached a more moderate political tone throughout the campaign, arguing he is the only electable candidate in the field. Other more long shot candidates include State Senator Shariff Street and Dr. Kevin Baumlin, both of Philadelphia. But the favorites at this point are Fetterman and Lamb.

The Republican field of candidates for Senate is quite possibly even more fluid than the Democratic side. Early front runner Sean Parnell, a former Congressional candidate with Trump’s endorsement, dropped out in November 2021 after losing a custody battle of his children. That left the GOP field in flux, with only a few relatively unknown candidates, including businessman Jeff Bartos, former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands, and political commentator Kathy Barnette, in the race. However, shortly after Parnell dropped out, celebrity doctor and television personality Mehmet Oz entered the race.

Having never run for office before, Dr. Oz faces a tough vetting process from GOP voters. Also entering the race recently is former Undersecretary of the Treasury David McCormick. The former Hedge Fund CEO of Bridgewater Associates has a baked-in advantage over other candidates. This is due to his connections to former President Trump, including his wife Dina Powell, who served as Trump’s Deputy National Security Advisor in 2017. Polling is sparse so far, but Oz, with his unrivaled name recognition, is seen as the early favorite.

The Races For Congress

While there are potentially 4-5 competitive congressional races in Pennsylvania in 2022, 2 really stand out. This includes Pennslyvania’s First and Seventh Congressional Districts. In the former, GOP Representative Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking a fourth term in office. Having taken over for his late brother (Mike Fitzpatrick), Brian has consistently won in what is rated as tossup or even slightly lean Democratic turf. Former President Donald Trump narrowly lost the Bucks County-based First Congressional District in 2016, and then lost it by a larger margin in 2020.

Despite this, Fitzpatrick pulled out relatively comfortable wins both years in addition to a narrower win in 2018. Now, Fitzpatrick faces at least 3 primary challengers, the most notable being Bradley Lanning of Perkasie. On the Democratic side, two notable candidates (Ashley Ehasz and Paul Fermo) have thus far announced their intentions to run. Both candidates are veterans, with the former hailing from the army and latter from the Navy. Fitzpatrick, however, is likely the favorite considering the favorable GOP political environment in 2022.

Another potential toss-up congressional race in Pennsylvania is in the Seventh District. This Lehigh County-based district hosted a highly competitive race in 2020, with Democratic Congresswoman Susan Wild edging out Republican challenger Lisa Scheller by fewer than 15,000 votes. The District, which includes the entirety of Allentown, Pennsylvania, rates as even by the Cook Political Report. With Pennsylvania only narrowly going to President Joe Biden in a favorable Democratic environment, Wild has her work cut out for her this year.

Scheller is already angling for a rematch, and other GOP candidates, including businessman Kevin Dellicker and State Representative Ryan Mackenzie, are also in the race. Wild ran unopposed in the primaries in 2020, and the only declared candidate this time around is businesswoman Vi Tran. Depending on how well Republicans do in the statewide races in P.A., this race may follow suit. But for now, the advantage has to stay with the well-known incumbent, so Wild should feel cautiously optimistic.

The Pennsylvania Roundup

Overall, the Keystone State is shaping up to be the tossup of tossups later this year in the Midterm Elections. Crucial races for Governor, Senate, and House will be decided by slim margins, and tens of millions of dollars will be shelled out by prospective candidates. The same way Georgia was so critically important in 2020, Pennsylvania may well follow suit. Look for Republicans to do well in all offices, although doing so does not necessarily equate to winning. The state has reliably elected Democrats to local and federal office.

So, the GOP will need high turnout to take the Governor’s mansion and keep Toomey’s Senate seat in their column. Democrats are already set with well-known candidates for Governor (Shapiro), Senate (Fetterman), and most of the congressional races. The question now is will they have the votes to get them across the finish line? The answer is forthcoming, but if history has anything to say, Pennsylvania will be a thoroughly entertaining state to watch in the 2022 Midterm Elections.

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