Pa. Senate leader Jake Corman set to announce run for governor as rival Mastriano explores bid

Candy Woodall
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Pennsylvania Senate leader Jake Corman on Thursday will formally announce his run for governor, joining a crowded field in the Republican primary that is expected to include his rival, state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Corman, 57, has invited donors and supporters to a private event in his hometown of Bellefonte, Centre County, where he will make the announcement, four people close to the Senate president's campaign told the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau.

The state Senate leader on Oct. 21 met with Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. House delegation in Washington, D.C., trying to gain their support for his upcoming bid, according to multiple staffers with knowledge of the meeting.  

Corman is a proven fundraiser with decades of experience in Pennsylvania politics, rising up through the ranks to become the top Republican leader in the General Assembly.

Jake Corman, the top Republican in the state Senate, on Thursday will officially launch his run for governor.

The Senate leader's run has been expected for several months. 

"He's been meeting with important Republicans," said Terry Madonna, a veteran pollster and political analyst in Pennsylvania who is now a political fellow at Millersville University.

"Plus...his committee to investigate (2020) election 'irregularities'...could help him with the Trump supporters in the state." 

In-fighting:GOP fight between Mastriano and leadership part of a bigger 2022 struggle in the party

Mastriano launches exploratory committee

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, is formally launching an exploratory committee for governor.

Mastriano, one of the most fervent supporters of former President Donald Trump, is also eyeing a potential challenge to Corman and the field of Republican candidates, which includes another Trump ally in former Congressman Lou Barletta. 

In an email Friday morning, Mastriano said he is forming an exploratory committee for governor. Mastriano, R-Franklin, has also been expected to run for months, as he campaigned earlier this year with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

At a church in Bedford County in mid-October, Mastriano told the congregation at Time Ministries Church that he was waiting on a financial sign from God.

Mastriano has defended Trump's "big lie" of a stolen election in 2020 and pushed for an Arizona-style audit in Pennsylvania. The senator is also making similar claims about the Republican primary for governor that's barely underway.

When Barletta released a poll showing himself as the frontrunner, Mastriano called it a "rigged poll" and released his own poll showing himself as the lead candidate. 

In a crowded Republican field that includes more than a dozen candidates, it's hard to say in November who will emerge as the frontrunner before the May primary. 

Pa. Sen. Doug Mastriano:What we know about his fight with fellow Republicans

A 2022 battle ahead

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only Democrat who has declared a run for governor.

The eventual Republican nominee would face Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is so far the only Democratic candidate to declare a run. 

Shapiro's campaign is attracting support from Democrats who want to hold the line against the GOP-controlled Legislature, which in recent months has worked to restrict voting rights and push anti-abortion bills.

After Tuesday's primary, analysts say Republicans may find success by following the campaign model of Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who won the Virginia governor's election. Youngkin did not campaign with Trump, but was careful to not push away the former president's supporters. He embraced the base, but he did not support use of an insurrection flag at a campaign event and condemned all political violence.

In Pennsylvania, it appears candidates like Corman and Charlie Gerow would fit in closer with the Youngkin model, while Mastriano and Barletta maintain closer ties to Trump. 

Republicans are facing a dichotomy where the right candidate to win a primary and the right candidate to win the general election may not be the same.

If they go too far right, they would alienate the moderates needed to win general elections. But if they stray too far from the Trump base, their primary wins could be imperiled.

Mastriano represents the kind of firebrand who could rally diehard fans of the former president with his relentless push for a forensic election audit. 

Corman appears cognizant the candidates who act like Trump, such as former Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, typically lose statewide general elections. Wagner lost to Wolf in 2018 by 17 points after threatening to stomp on his face with golf spikes

The Senate leader described the playing field earlier this fall when the Associated Press asked if he was running for governor or if it had crossed his mind. 

"It’s crossed my mind that we need a good candidate, someone who can win," Corman said.

Corman, who is typically regarded as the most powerful Republican in Harrisburg, in August replaced Mastriano on the Senate committee leading the election review and also removed his staff — actions that are rare from chamber leadership and typically seen as punitive. 

The Senate leader said he made those moves because Mastriano was more concerned with "politics and showmanship" than getting work done.

In late September, Corman banned Mastriano from private GOP strategy sessions.

Mastriano has repeatedly criticized Senate leadership for "stonewalling" an election investigation.

He also criticized Senate leadership and "establishment Republicans" during his interviews with national conservative media and at rallies throughout the state.

Corman isn't talking much about it because he doesn't think it's appropriate, or that anything good will come of it, if lawmakers fight each other through the media, his spokesman Jason Thompson said.

But the feud has been an opening salvo to what is expected to be a hard-fought 2022 election season.

Why he's running:Pa. AG Josh Shapiro says he's running for governor 'at a critical time in America'

'A wake-up call':What this year's Pennsylvania election results mean for critical 2022 races

Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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