A Guide to Pennsylvania’s Primary Elections

The 2022 midterm elections in Pennsylvania are likely to be among the most consequential races in the country, and have been an important target for both the Republican and Democratic parties in recent elections. The primary elections, held on Tuesday, May 17, will be pivotal to both parties’ chances at success.

The most notable races on the ballot are Governor and U.S. Senator, while there are also races for the U.S. House, Lieutenant Governor, and both chambers of the state legislature.

In the gubernatorial election, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who has served since 2015, cannot run for a third consecutive term as stated by the Constitution of Pennsylvania. Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, is the only Democratic candidate on the ballot, and was unanimously endorsed by the state Democratic Party. He hopes to run with his endorsed candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Austin Davis.

Nine Republicans are running to succeed Wolf. These candidates include Lou Barletta, a former congressman who ran for U.S. Senate against Bob Casey in 2018; Jake Corman, the Republican leader in the Pa. Senate; Joe Gale, a Montgomery County Commissioner; Charlie Gerow, a conservative political commentator; Melissa Hart, a former congresswoman from Pittsburgh; Doug Mastriano, a state senator who represents part of Cumberland County; Bill McSwain, a former U.S. attorney for the East District of Pa.; Dave White, a former Delaware County council member; and Nche Zama, a notable surgeon from the Poconos.

Barletta and Mastriano have been the front runners for the nomination, with both leading in recent polls. Both have been strong allies of Donald Trump, particularly in relation to attempts to overturn the 2020 election, although no candidate has been endorsed by the former president. Issues including abortion access, gun laws, and election law have been prevalent in the primary.

In the U.S. Senate race, Sen. Pat Toomey announced in October 2020 that he would not seek re-election. Toomey was narrowly elected twice before in 2010 and 2016. The Senate is currently made up of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties in favor of Democrats. If the seat flips to a Democrat, it would be a boost to the Biden administration and the Democratic legislative agenda.

There are currently 11 candidates, seven Republicans and four Democrats, vying for Toomey’s seat. Republican candidates running for the seat include Kathy Barnette, a conservative political commentator; Jeff Bartos, a businessman who was the GOP nominee for Lt. Governor in 2018; Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO; Mehmet Oz, celebrity doctor and host of The Dr. Oz Show; and Carla Sands, U.S. Ambassador to Denmark under President Trump. Also in the race are George Bochetto and Sean Gale.

A focus on Donald Trump and the 2020 election has been a significant focus in the Senate race. In debates, most of the Republican candidates stated that either the 2020 election cannot be trusted and should still be focused on, or that they would have voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s election results in Jan. 2021. Oz ultimately received the former President’s endorsement after his first preferred candidate, Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign. Despite the endorsement, the race has still been competitive, largely between Oz and McCormick. Similar to the Governor election, polling shows a close race between the two front runners.

Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate include John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pa.; Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative from Philadelphia; Alexandra Khalil, a councilwoman from Jenkintown; and Conor Lamb, a congressman from Allegheny County.

The question of electability has been a major issue in the Democratic primary. Candidates have attacked each other on whether they are too progressive to win a state such as Pennsylvania, or too conservative to bring out the party’s most solid supporters. Fetterman has led in polling, while Lamb and Kenyatta have picked up many endorsements from elected Democrats across the state. 

In the PA 10th congressional district, which includes Carlisle, Congressman Scott Perry has served in the U.S. House since 2013, and is running for his fifth term after winning in 2020 with 53% of the vote. He is the only Republican candidate on the ballot for the District. Perry is the Chair of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative members of the U.S. House. Perry’s Democratic challengers include Rick Coplen, a school board member of the Carlisle Area School District, and Shamaine Daniels, a member of the Harrisburg City Council.

Between the two most significant statewide races, Governor and Senate, only the Democratic Governor primary has had the state party endorse a candidate, the unopposed Josh Shapiro. Meanwhile, in the Republican race for Governor, and both races for the Senate, no candidates were endorsed by the state parties due to the large pool of candidates. Here on campus, the College Republicans and College Democrats have not made primary endorsements, per their club constitutions.