Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, Billboard debuted its Top 100 chart with Ricky Nelson’s Poor Little Fool as the number one hit record, and Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army. The year was 1958 and it was the last time voters in Pennsylvania saw a ballot with open seats for both U.S. Senator and governor.
Voters rendered a split decision that year: Democrat David Lawrence was elected governor, and Republican Hugh Scott was elected to the U.S. Senate. During that period of history governors of Pennsylvania were limited to serving just one term. It was not until the state constitution was revised in 1968 that governors were permitted to seek re-election, with Milton Shapp being the first to do so.
Governors of Pennsylvania are now limited to serving two terms, which means incumbent Governor Tom Wolf’s tenure will end in January of 2023. Meanwhile, incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has announced he will not seek re-election next year creating an open seat.
Over the years occupation of these statewide positions have taken a number of twists and turns. Tom Ridge was re-elected governor in 1998, but resigned in October of 2001 to join the Bush Administration to aide in dealing with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Lt. Governor Mark Schweiker served the remainder of Ridge’s term, but opted not to seek election in 2002, a race ultimately won by Democrat Ed Rendell.
Another gubernatorial anomaly was the eight year cycle. Between 1968 and 2014 voters re-elected governors to second terms switching from Republican to Democrat every eight years. The cycle was broken in 2014 when Governor Tom Corbett was defeated in his bid for re-election by Tom Wolf.
Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seats have also had their share of drama, and tragically so. Senator John Heinz was killed in a plane crash in 1991. Then Governor Robert P. Casey, Sr. appointed Harris Wofford to the seat.
Wofford prevailed in a special election over former Governor Dick Thornburgh, but then lost in 1994 to Congressman Rick Santorum. Santorum himself went on to serve two terms before being ousted by Robert P. Casey, Jr. in 2006.
Then there was the dramatic ending to the U.S. Senate career of Arlen Specter. Specter was a long serving Republican, but had moved far to the Left of the GOP and was facing certain primary defeat in 2010 at the hands of Pat Toomey. In a bid to hold onto power Specter switched parties, but lost the Democratic nomination to Congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak was ultimately defeated by Toomey.
This convoluted road from 1958 to 2022 presented many unique circumstances. But, for the first time in decades, Pennsylvania voters will fill both the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat with no incumbent occupying either office.
The race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2022 likely will set a record for the most number of candidates. At present, more than a dozen candidates have announced or have formed exploratory committees. GOP primary voters saw somewhat crowded fields in 1978 when Dick Thornburgh was nominated and in 1994 when Tom Ridge became the party’s standard bearer. Early indications are the 2022 field will be two to three times larger. Meanwhile, Attorney General Josh Shapiro appears to have a clear path to the Democratic nomination.
Democrats’ attention in the primary will be focused on the U.S. Senate race where a battle between the party’s ultra-Left wing and more moderate faction is shaping up. Lt. Governor John Fetterman, who occupies the far Left has tapped into nationwide fundraising streams and enters the year with a significant cash advantage. Congressman Conor Lamb is viewed – at least within the context of Democratic politics – as a centrist and is touted as the most electable of the two in the General Election. Add in Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh along with several other minor candidates and Democrats appear to be in for a hotly contested primary.
The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate also has drama. Trump-endorsed Sean Parnell has become embroiled in a messy divorce/child custody battle which has generated some nasty headlines. Meanwhile out-of-staters including celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz are making noise about entering the race. Jeff Bartos, who was the GOP’s nominee for Lt. Governor in 2020; Kathy Barnette, a prominent conservative commentator; and Carla Sands, the former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark have also emerged as major candidates.
And so the stage is set for what promises to be one of the most wild and woolly election years in Pennsylvania history.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected] )
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.