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Opinion: GOP leaders fret about large gubernatorial field

While state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has a walk in the park on his way to the Democratic nomination for governor in November’s race, the story is much different on the Republican side where 10 candidates have lined up to seek the nomination.

This glut of candidates, brought on largely since incumbent governor Tom Wolf cannot seek a third term and given the partisan political climate in the state and nation, raises concerns that an unpopular nominee with a loyal, die-hard following might win the nomination with a small percentage of the vote, then turn out to be a candidate viewed as too extreme in the general election.

While the state Republican Party officially decided not to back or support any candidate - the first time it has done this since 1978 - there is much going on behind the scenes to try to discourage candidates who don’t have a prayer of winning to drop out so they don’t needlessly siphon votes from viable candidates.

It is likely that either self-realization or pressure from the GOP higher-ups will cull the large field before the primary, but there are always candidates, such as cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Nche Zama of Pocono, who have hung tough even though their chances of winning are infinitesimal.

He is one of two local GOP candidates who announced their intention to seek the top executive position. The other, Shawn Berger, a local businessman and restaurateur from Palmerton, did not file the required paperwork by last week’s deadline to get on the ballot. He is one of four candidates to announce plans to run but who either dropped out or never submitted nominating petitions, a prerequisite to getting on the ballot.

Those who did file include Lou Barletta of Hazleton, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018 who was beaten handily by incumbent Democrat Bob Casey of Scranton, 55.7% to 42.6%. In recent polls, Barletta has a slim lead among registered Republican voters, although more than half of those polled earlier this month said it’s early and they could change their minds before the May 18 primary.

The other eight candidates are: Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman of Centre County; marketing consultant and conservative activist Charlie Gerow; avid Donald Trump supporter Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin; Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia Bill McSwain; former U.S. Rep. and attorney Melissa Hart of Allegheny County; Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale; Pittsburgh-based lawyer Jason Richey, and former Delaware County councilman and business owner Dave White.

Several area GOP incumbent state legislators are privately worried that if a polarizing figure such as Mastriano becomes the nominee, he could have an adverse effect on down-ballot candidates in November.

Mastriano, who claims that Trump asked him to run for governor, paid for a busload of Trump supporters to go to the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, which resulted in a riot at the Capitol.

The congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol has issued a subpoena to Mastriano, saying they want information on his alleged involvement in sending false slates of electors to Washington to change the outcome of the 2020 election. The committee said it also wants to talk to him about his conversations with Trump after the 2020 election and his being present on the Capitol grounds the day of the riot.

All 203 seats in the House of Representatives and 25 of the 50 seats in the state Senate are up for election this year. Two of the region’s six state senators have announced that they will not seek re-election when their terms end on Nov. 30. They are John Yudichak, I-Carbon and Luzerne, and Mario Scavello, R-Northampton and Monroe. Two local House members will not seek re-election. They are Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, and Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe, who will seek Scavello’s Senate seat. They are among 31 legislators statewide who are not running in the first election with redrawn legislative maps after the decennial census.

Three Democrats and nine Republicans have filed their petitions for lieutenant governor, who run separately from the gubernatorial candidates, an issue that will likely be changed in the coming years in an expected state constitutional change to have candidates for the two offices run as a team.

One local candidate is among this year’s dozen contenders - John Brown, a Republican, who is former Northampton County Executive and the party’s unsuccessful 2016 candidate for auditor general.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.