Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says he won’t make an endorsement in Democrats’ competitive 2022 U.S. Senate primary, even though his lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, is widely seen as the party’s early front-runner.
“I’m not weighing in on the primary,” Wolf said in an interview Thursday. He said he’s “letting the Democrats decide who they want in the primary, and then I will support that candidate.”
His neutrality in the Senate primary contrasts with his position in the 2022 governor’s race. Wolf in 2019 endorsed state Attorney General Josh Shapiro for governor, even though Shapiro still hasn’t formally announced his candidacy.
It’s also a shift from 2016, when Wolf made an early endorsement in that year’s hard-fought Senate primary, backing Katie McGinty, his former chief of staff, over Fetterman and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. He weighed in less than two months after McGinty entered the race, and as the Democratic establishment coalesced around her.
This year, party insiders in both Pennsylvania and Washington are taking a more hands-off approach, at least so far. But it also means Wolf has now twice passed on backing Fetterman.
Wolf noted that Shapiro is the only major Democratic figure said to be considering a run for governor, while a number of well-known Democrats are either actively campaigning or said to be eyeing the Senate contest.
Along with Fetterman, Democrats running for Senate include Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb of Allegheny County is also seen as a likely candidate, and State Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia has formed an exploratory committee.
That gives Democrats a wide range of choices in terms of geography, ideology, and personal characteristics, and is likely to prompt a bruising debate about who’s best suited to win a race that could decide control of the Senate — and, with it, the fate of much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Both parties see the Pennsylvania race as one of the most competitive in the country. The incumbent Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey, isn’t seeking reelection.
Asked why he would endorse in the nascent gubernatorial primary but not for Senate, Wolf pointed to the array of choices in the Senate race.
“There’s really only one, that I know of, gubernatorial candidate,” he said. “I’ve worked closely with Josh for a long time, and I think he is a strong candidate and would be a ... good, good governor. All the [Senate candidates] who have announced so far I think are really good people. I would have no problem with any of them.”
He added of his early Shapiro endorsement, which came before Shapiro had even won reelection to his current job: “I did jump the gun. Guilty.”