Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate gathered in central Pennsylvania over the weekend for the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s Central Caucus meeting, which included a straw poll to gauge support for the party’s robust slate of 2022 candidates.
The results offered a glimpse into who elected party members prefer in 2022 races for governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate – though no formal endorsements were made. And while candidates were quick to tout their straw poll wins over the weekend, Pennsylvania politicos noted that straw poll results don’t necessarily foreshadow who will see success in the coming primary elections.
Delaware County businessman Dave White won the straw poll for governor, receiving 21 votes from the Central Caucus members. White said the straw poll win signals that his message is resonating with Pennsylvania voters.
“Today’s victory shows we have the momentum and grassroots support to win in both May and November!” White wrote on social media.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain placed second, with 17 votes, while former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta came in third. State Sen. Scott Martin and political strategist Charlie Gerow both received 12 votes, and state Sens. Jake Corman and Doug Mastriano received seven votes and six votes, respectively.
Montgomery County real estate developer Jeff Bartos, who is running in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, won the straw poll for that race, besting a primary field that includes conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund executive David McCormick and former U.S. ambassador Carla Sands.
Bartos won the straw poll by a wide margin, with 49 total votes. Barnette was second with 30 votes and McCormick came in third with 15 votes. Sands received eight votes, and Oz, Martin Rosenfeld and George Bochetto all received one vote.
Conor McGuinness, campaign manager for the Bartos campaign, said in a statement that the straw poll results underscores concern about candidates like Oz and McCormick, who have ties to other states.
"Pennsylvanians will not sit idly by and let out-of-staters parachute into our state and steal our Senate seat – and this straw poll is proof,” he said. "Folks are responding to the fact that Jeff's campaign is about continuing his service to Pennsylvania, while his opponents are looking to make Pennsylvania serve them."
Even candidates who didn’t receive the most votes in their respective straw polls looked to frame the results in their favor. But Berwood Yost, the director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research, said voters shouldn’t put too much stock in informal surveys.
“While the results give the winning candidates something to talk about and fundraise on, straw polls don't tell us much of anything about how we should expect the primaries to turn out because we don't know how well these views reflect the views of the entire state committee, for one, and, more importantly, the Republican primary electorate,” Yost told City & State.
Christopher Nicholas, a veteran GOP strategist, also noted that straw poll results could shift from region to region as the Pennsylvania Republican Party holds other regional meetings.
Nicholas said the most important takeaway from the Central Caucus meeting was not who won the candidate polls, but that an overwhelming majority of attendees recommended not endorsing gubernatorial or Senate candidates.
“The most important vote there was they also voted by a two-to-one margin, not to recommend an endorsement at all, which would be the first time in my history going back 30 years that the state party would not have endorsed in big time statewide races,” Nicholas said. “That's just because there's so many candidates in both races that can't seem to get to any type of consensus.”