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Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro says he’s running for governor

Party leaders have already largely rallied behind Shapiro, seeing him as their best chance to hold on to the governor’s office after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s term ends in January 2023.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.Read moreThomas Hengge / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro launched his long-expected campaign for governor Wednesday, declaring himself a champion of the vulnerable who’s willing to “take on the big fights” needed to meet the state’s challenges.

Speaking at a park in Pittsburgh’s North Shore section, Shapiro highlighted his work for victims of child sexual abuse, workers whose wages were stolen by employers, patients left in limbo amid a dispute between two health-care giants, and voters threatened by former President Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

“As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, the powerful have been put on notice, and the people have been heard,” said Shapiro, a 48-year-old Democrat from Abington, in Montgomery County. “I fought for those who have been wronged, citizens who’ve been left out, and communities that have been forgotten. I’ve stood up for them, brought people together, and I’ve got things done. That’s the kind of leadership we need right now.”

Shapiro’s announcement, first made in a video posted online Wednesday morning, marked his official entrance in a race in which he’s already considered the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Reelected last year to a second term as the state’s top law enforcement officer, Shapiro is the only high-profile Democrat so far to enter the 2022 gubernatorial race, and he isn’t expected to face significant competition. Party leaders have already largely rallied behind Shapiro, seeing him as their best chance to hold on to the office after Gov. Tom Wolf’s term ends in January 2023. Republicans control both houses of the state legislature.

Shapiro said he would work to “rebuild our infrastructure” and expand internet access “from Waynesburg to West Philly,” invest in rural hospitals, expand labor rights, and “lead the way on energy” — rejecting what he called a “false choice” between protecting jobs and the planet. And he said he’d work to make Pennsylvania more attractive to businesses.

In a phone interview after his announcement, Shapiro said Pennsylvania’s 9.99% corporate net income tax rate — the second highest in the country — is too high and “holds businesses back.” He didn’t specify a preferred rate.

“At the same time we have too many loopholes that they take advantage of,” Shapiro said. “We need to lower taxes, close loopholes and simultaneously invest in our workforce by increasing wages. If we can do both of those things together, while also cutting costs for families, that’s going to unleash the greatest economic potential of Pennsylvania.”

Asked about Wolf’s handling of the pandemic — one topic that Republican candidates for the job have signaled will be a campaign issue — Shapiro declined to offer an assessment but said: “Too many Pennsylvanians could not get the help they needed during COVID. Heck, some of them couldn’t even get their phone calls returned when they were applying for unemployment that was due to them. So we need to have a government that is more responsive to people.”

» READ MORE: How Josh Shapiro locked down the Democratic nomination for governor without even announcing he would run

Shapiro’s glide path to the Democratic nomination stands in contrast with a crowded Republican primary field that could grow in the coming weeks. The GOP candidates include former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who was the party’s 2018 U.S. Senate nominee; former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain; political strategist Charlie Gerow; and Guy Ciarrocci, former CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry.

State Sens. Doug Mastriano, Dan Laughlin, and Scott Martin have said they’re considering running, and some GOP insiders expect Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman to jump in.

Shapiro said his Republican rivals aren’t focused on the same challenges he sees. “Instead they’re peddling the big lie. ... They’re not thinking about you,” he told supporters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “They’re not thinking about any of you. Instead, they’re focused on a taxpayer-funded audit that would jeopardize the private, personal information of nine million Pennsylvania voters.”

In a statement, the Republican Governors Association pushed back on the Democratic front-runner.

“Throughout the pandemic Josh Shapiro has stood by Tom Wolf and his failed Covid policies that endangered Pennsylvania seniors, crushed the economy, and left the Keystone State with an unemployment rate well above the national average,” said the statement from RGA spokesperson Chris Gustafson. “It’s no wonder Shapiro is the Democrats’ hand-picked candidate. Who else will carry on the failed policies that have left the commonwealth behind? Voters are eager for change and look forward to electing a Republican governor next fall.”

Shapiro has faced some criticism from the left during his tenure as attorney general, especially from those who want more expansive changes to the criminal justice system. But as an indication of Shapiro’s strong position in the party, his announcement video features support from a well-known progressive: Ed Gainey, a state representative and Democratic nominee for mayor of Pittsburgh who shocked the Pennsylvania political world in May when he defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the primary.

Shapiro, says Gainey in the video, “will always fight to protect voting rights.”

Shapiro ended the day with a rally at Penn State’s satellite campus in Abington, where a couple of hundred supporters cheered him on. Among them was Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.), who told the crowd that with some Republican legislatures moving to restrict abortion access, “we need a leader to stand up for and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Shapiro’s national profile grew late last year when he publicly, and then representing Wolf’s administration, repeatedly pushed back against Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud in the state.

Shapiro filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block a Senate GOP subpoena that demanded millions of voter records from the Wolf administration. The case is pending.

» READ MORE: What to know about Pennsylvania Republicans’ investigation of the 2020 election

First elected Pennsylvania attorney general in 2016, Shapiro gained national prominence two years later when he released a state grand jury report accusing the Catholic Church of covering up decades of child sexual abuse.

He was previously chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and a state representative.

Shapiro had $2.7 million in his campaign account as of Dec. 31, the date for which the most recent figures are available.