One of the worst-kept secrets in Pennsylvania politics is that Sen. Pat Toomey is considering a run for governor in 2022.
So when the Republican rolled out a plan Thursday to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy, and do it more quickly, in many cases, than Gov. Tom Wolf has planned, it renewed speculation about Toomey’s intentions. Four Pennsylvania GOP insiders who spoke to The Inquirer all saw it as an attempt from the senator to show how he would lead as an executive as he weighed in on a critical issue that has raised the profiles of governors across the country.
“It was a pretty clear smoke signal” that Toomey is thinking about a bid for the statehouse, said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist based in Harrisburg, though he, like everyone else interviewed, added that he didn’t believe any decision has been made.
In an interview before his 2016 reelection campaign, Toomey told The Inquirer it was “likely” that if he won a second six-year term, it would be his last in the Senate.
That interview came as Toomey cosponsored a term-limit bill restricting lawmakers to two Senate terms and three in the House, aligning with views he has espoused going back to his time as a congressman in the early 2000s. Toomey cited that belief in 2004 when he declined to seek a fourth House term. Now he’s running into the Senate limit he has supported.
Toomey downplayed speculation about a gubernatorial bid when asked about it Friday morning on WKOK, a rural radio station near Williamsport.
“I am not focused on that at all," Toomey said. "These last few months I’ve been as busy as I’ve ever been in the United States Senate. I love my job, I love the work I do for the people of Pennsylvania and 2022 is a long way away, in my book, so I’ll make decisions about my own political future further down the road.”
But part of the reason Toomey’s 11-page coronavirus plan caught attention from the political class was that it was an unusual foray into a state-level debate for Toomey, who rarely, if ever, gets involved in Harrisburg’s machinations. Just a few weeks ago he deferred to Wolf and state lawmakers when asked whether Pennsylvania should move its primary election date. And coronavirus restrictions have been set by state officials, not Congress.
Toomey cast his plan Thursday as “constructive suggestions” he discussed with Wolf. He said his proposal is similar to the governor’s vision, but would move faster, especially in regions that have seen few coronavirus cases.
“This is my way of weighing in on a public discussion of how we deal with this unprecedented but very, very important situation,” Toomey told reporters in a conference call his office arranged Thursday. (If he did run for governor, it would not be against Wolf, who is in his second term and by law can’t seek a third.)
He continues to play a high-profile role in Washington, having written a major piece of the recent coronavirus rescue legislation. But he also already crossed off a major goal in 2017 by helping push through the GOP tax cuts, and there’s now little major legislation moving through a divided Congress.
Much of Toomey’s future would seem to hinge on the outcome of November’s elections. The possibilities in Washington, or limitations, will depend on whether it’s President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden in the White House, and on which party has the Senate majority.
But of the major possibilities for Toomey in 2022 — run for governor, leave public life, seek a third Senate term — there’s a reasonable argument that the last option is the least likely.