Longtime Pennsylvania Republican strategist Charlie Gerow is running for governor, saying he’s a “coalition builder” who can unite the GOP and expand its appeal as a Latino immigrant who found opportunity in the United States.
Gerow, who began his political career working for Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign, said this week that he can bridge the gap between traditional conservatives and the party’s insurgent wing embodied by the rise of former President Donald Trump.
“I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican who has been brought up to date by the populist focus of many in our party today, because I grew up the hard way, and understand exactly what they’re looking for,” Gerow, 66, said in an interview Tuesday ahead of a campaign launch planned for later this week.
He said he would campaign as a “conservative happy warrior,” focus on “how to get our economy back on solid footing after being locked down and shut down” during the pandemic, and make Pennsylvania more attractive to businesses.
Gerow is one of the first Republicans to officially announce his candidacy for next year’s open-seat gubernatorial election. He plans to hold a formal launch event Thursday at a firehouse in his hometown of Hampden Township in Cumberland County.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited, and the race to succeed him is expected to be hotly contested. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, but Wolf’s veto pen has thwarted much of their agenda over the last seven years.
Other Republicans who have announced campaigns for governor or taken steps in that direction include former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta; State Sens. Doug Mastriano, Scott Martin, and Dan Laughlin; former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is widely seen as the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
Gerow was born in Brazil and adopted by American missionaries who returned to the U.S. shortly thereafter.
He said his birth mother wanted him to be adopted by Americans “because she hoped and dreamed” for what he could accomplish in the U.S., including learning how to read. “To her that was the greatest calling that anybody could aspire to,” he said. “And so when I talk about opportunity, and the freedom to pursue those opportunities, it really comes from deep within my soul.”
Gerow grew up in Warminster, Bucks County, and has lived in central Pennsylvania for more than 30 years. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate and Congress multiple times in the 1980s and 1990s, then founded the Harrisburg-based public affairs firm Quantum Communications in 2001. He also serves as vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual gathering known as CPAC, and was a co-chair of businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In the early stages of the gubernatorial race, some likely candidates have sought to establish their bona fides as strong Trump supporters and amplified his false claims that the election was tainted by widespread fraud.
Gerow acknowledged President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election and said he’s focused on the future. “The integrity of our elections is at the core of our democracy,” he said. “And so when there are legitimate questions about the outcome, there are no winners.”
He said he hasn’t yet read the entirety of state House Republicans’ new proposed election overhaul, but said he agrees with much of it and that the legislature should negotiate the details and pass it.
The bill, which Wolf has signaled he would veto, would establish more stringent voter ID requirements, signature verification of mail ballots, and early in-person voting, among other major changes. Democrats have denounced the measure, saying it would make it harder to vote.
Trump has demanded that the legislature conduct an audit of the 2020 election — similar to the widely criticized partisan recount ongoing in Arizona — even though the Pennsylvania Department of State already conducted a statewide risk-limiting audit. Counties are also already required by law to audit a sample of ballots.
Asked about the idea, Gerow said, “If there’s nothing to hide, nothing to be concerned about.”
“I’m not sure why there’s tremendous angst over an audit,” he said, “but by the same token I understand that there are some difficulties with moving forward with one.”