Pennsylvania Republicans have been battling with Gov. Tom Wolf since he unseated incumbent Tom Corbett in 2014. Many of them are eager to take Wolf’s place, but there is no clear frontrunner this early in the race. Several Republicans have already announced their bid, and a few others have hinted or shown interest in joining what is expected to be a packed primary. Thus far, it’s hard to find a Republican candidate without some sort of ties to former President Donald Trump.
With a heated race to fill U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat next year, the GOP will have to be strategic about what candidates it wants to back for the Senate and for governor. The party will have to decide who it wants to go up against Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the preordained Democratic candidate who recently launched his formal campaign.
The already-crowded Republican field was looking like it could get even bigger, as former House Speaker Mike Turzai expressed interest in joining the race for the commonwealth’s chief executive office, though he ultimately bowed out before he even entered the primary. With the field changing by the day, here is the latest list of candidates.
Former U.S Rep. Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart, who served the suburbs of western Pennsylvania in the then-4th congressional district for six years, is set to become the first woman in the race for governor. She got her start in politics breaking barriers too, becoming the first Republican woman to be elected to a full term in the state Senate and the first Republican woman to be elected to federal office from the commonwealth. Following her time in Congress, Hart returned to legal work and is currently a consultant at Hergenroeder Rega Ewing & Kenney, LLC in Pittsburgh. She officially declared her candidacy Jan. 3, stating that her Pennsylvania roots and political experience make her a strong alternative to the current “Harrisburg powerbrokers.”
A business owner hailing from the eastern part of the commonwealth, Shawn Berger wants to bring his blue-collar work ethic to the governor’s race. Berger owns two businesses, American Environmental Services, an industrial vacuum truck company in Gilbert, and the American Lobster restaurant in Wind Gap. Berger kept his restaurant open throughout the pandemic and has been a vocal opponent of Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation mandates. His campaign site says he’s focused on upgrading the state’s infrastructure, improving education through school choice and utilizing the state’s natural resources to boost the energy economy and bring taxes down.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano
Sen. Doug Mastriano, representing Franklin County, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 before winning a special election for the 33rd senatorial district in 2019. Mastriano all but announced his candidacy last month, stating that he’s reached his fundraising goal for a gubernatorial bid and plans to formally announce his candidacy on Jan. 8. A vocal Trump advocate throughout his time in Harrisburg, Mastriano even helped organize bus rides for supporters to join him in Washington for the January 6 protests. He claims he did not participate in the rally once it turned violent, but has continued to keep ties with the former president. Mastriano has also claimed that Trump asked him to run for governor and stated that he would support Mastriano’s campaign.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman
Sen. Jake Corman is one of the most prominent figures in Harrisburg set to make a run for the state’s executive office. His potential candidacy has been suspected for months, and that speculation was confirmed recently when Corman officially launched his campaign in his Centre County hometown. The longtime state senator said on his “Restore Freedom” listening tour that he will fight for personal freedoms, job creation and safe communities.
State Sen. Scott Martin
A former county commissioner, Martin is in his second term as a state senator representing the 13th district. He is a lifelong Lancaster County resident, having graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School and Millersville University before representing the area. He currently serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee and has been a staunch advocate for school choice and expanding tax credit scholarship programs. He formed an exploratory committee earlier this year before confirming his candidacy in December, becoming the second state senator to do so.
Dave White, who runs a plumbing and HVAC company in Delaware County, also recently joined the still-growing list of Republicans running for governor. The businessman is a third-generation union steamfitter who will try to leverage his ties to labor unions and blue-collar workers to carve out a space in the Republican primary field. White is a former county councilman who lost his reelection bid in 2017. He formally launched his campaign in November and received an endorsement from state Sen. Dan Laughlin, who was expected to make a gubernatorial run himself, shortly after.
Chester County Chamber CEO Guy Ciarrocchi
The economy is the top priority for Guy Ciarrocchi, who has served as president and CEO of the main trade group for Chester County businesses since 2014. He brings both policy and financial experience to the field, having spent time as a top official in former Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, as well as the chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, U.S Rep. Jim Gerlach and state Sen. Melissa Hart. A South Philadelphia native, Ciarrocchi said he’d like to overhaul the Department of Labor and to focus on education reform and school choice.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain
McSwain, a former Trump-appointed prosecutor in Philadelphia, officially announced his intent to run for governor in September. As a U.S. attorney, he would often exchange blows with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner, claiming they were soft on crime. McSwain resigned from his position just before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but made headlines in July when he claimed Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, told him not to investigate claims of voter fraud. Like most Republicans, he has repeatedly criticized Wolf for his COVID-19 response. The 2020 election and pandemic response will continue to be major talking points throughout his first run for public office.
Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta
Barletta’s political career began in his hometown of Hazelton, where he went from city councilman to mayor. He then made his way to Washington, winning the U.S. House of Representatives race for Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district in 2010. His attempt to jump over to the Senate failed, however, as he lost to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in 2018. Looking to get back into Pennsylvania politics, Barletta announced his bid for governor earlier this year. A strong opponent of illegal immigration, Barletta was also a member of former President Donald Trump’s transition team in 2016.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale
Gale was the first Republican to formally announce his candidacy for governor back in February. An avid Trump supporter, he has criticized the Pennsylvania GOP and pledged to be a conservative populist. He’s also caught attention for calling the Black Lives Matter Movement a hate group and saying Trump’s presidency was sabotaged.
Pittsburgh attorney Jason Richey
Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Richey also announced his candidacy for governor earlier this year. Like many of his fellow candidates, the partner at Pittsburgh's K&L Gates law firm said he decided to run after Wolf’s COVID-19 restrictions took away peoples’ freedoms and hurt the economy. His “Contract with Pennsylvanians” outlines his plans to shrink government spending in order to reduce taxes, increase transparency, and bring more jobs to the Commonwealth.
Dr. Nche Zama
Zama is another outsider candidate looking to take the governor’s desk. A well-known cardiothoracic surgeon, Zama is based in East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, and focused much of his announcement speech on his work as a humanitarian and skilled surgeon. He claims that for too long, Pennsylvania has been “sick” and that Harrisburg has been too broken to properly support its economy and education and health care systems.
A longtime conservative activist, Gerow threw his hat into the ring earlier this year. Formally announcing his candidacy in June, Gerow is another Republican hopeful with a history in Harrisburg. He runs a communications and marketing firm near the Capitol, and has appeared as a political commentator on public affairs shows in central Pennsylvania for years. Looking to set himself apart from other conservatives, Gerow said his top priorities include allowing ballot initiatives sponsored by voters, and allowing voters to recall a governor.
A Hempfield Republican with a “Never Socialist” tagline, Ventre is another gubernatorial candidate leaning heavily into Trump’s messaging. Ventre, who came in third in the Republican primary for Westmoreland County Commissioner in 2019, previously served as a state director of the Mutual UFO Network, an organization that investigates suspected sightings of unidentified flying objects. His campaign site emphasizes he is “Pro-GOD, GUN, LIFE, Pro-CONSTITUTION, and Pro-FREEDOM.” He wants to “Make PA Great Again” by reducing the size of the legislature, decreasing business taxes and prosecuting “cancel culture” as harassment.
Former House Speaker Mike Turzai
The list of Harrisburg names in this gubernatorial looked to be growing with the addition of Mike Turzai, a former Speaker of the state House of Representatives. Turzai made an effort last week to add his name to the list of candidates for governor that were set to appear in front of the Republican State Committee’s Central Caucus. Another strong conservative voice during Gov. Tom Wolf’s time as governor, Turzai has hinted at running for governor and Congress in the past. However, he officially ruled out a run in January, according to ABC 27.
Former Corry Mayor Jason Monn
Monn, a former council member and mayor of Corry, announced this past week that he will be ending his gubernatorial bid and instead run for state representative in the Fourth legislative district. Monn is owner of Fat Monn’s Grub restaurant and has been a vocal opponent of Wolf and his COVID restrictions. He sees himself as a political outsider standing up for small businesses and the people most affected by the pandemic closures. Looking to be the “common Monn” on the ballot, Monn will now be looking to take the place of state Rep. Curt Sonney, who said he will be retiring.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser
Congressmen Meuser had shown interest in running for governor, but ultimately opted to run for reelection to the U.S. House in October instead. Prior to his political career, Meuser was an executive at Pride Mobility Products. He lost the race for the 10th congressional district in 2008 before serving as the head of the Department of Revenue under former Gov. Tom Corbett. He was then successful in 2018, winning the U.S. House race for the 9th congressional district. Meuser has also been supportive of Trump, including joining U.S. House Republicans in December 2020 to support a Texas lawsuit that contested the presidential election in Pennsylvania. He’ll be seeking his third term representing Schuylkill County in Washington.