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Big GOP governor’s field could grow with Corman announcement

November 5, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2021 file photo, state senator Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Corman, the ranking Republican in Pennsylvania's state Senate who is widely expected to run for governor, has begun inviting donors and others to an announcement next Thursday night, Nov. 11, 2021. The event is billed as a "special announcement" in Corman's hometown of Bellefonte, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2021 file photo, state senator Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Corman, the ranking Republican in Pennsylvania's state Senate who is widely expected to run for governor, has begun inviting donors and others to an announcement next Thursday night, Nov. 11, 2021. The event is billed as a "special announcement" in Corman's hometown of Bellefonte, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2021 file photo, state senator Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks during a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Corman, the ranking Republican in Pennsylvania's state Senate who is widely expected to run for governor, has begun inviting donors and others to an announcement next Thursday night, Nov. 11, 2021. The event is billed as a "special announcement" in Corman's hometown of Bellefonte, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Jake Corman, the ranking Republican in Pennsylvania’s state Senate who is widely expected to run for governor in next year’s election, has begun inviting donors and others to an announcement next Thursday night.

The event is billed as a “special announcement” in Corman’s hometown of Bellefonte.

Corman’s entry into the race would swell an already big field of Republicans running for governor that’s double-digits deep and growing, as the party searches for a nominee to potentially succeed outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

Corman, 57, who represents a swath of central Pennsylvania surrounding Penn State’s main campus, is the Senate’s president pro tempore and has served in the chamber since 1999 — controlled by Republicans the whole time — after taking over the seat his father held.

For weeks, Corman has been expected to enter the race, meeting with donors and the Republican congressional delegation. Corman has said he would discuss his political plans after Tuesday’s election, but neither he nor a political adviser have returned messages about it.

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He has served in GOP leadership since 2009 — including as majority leader from 2015 through last year — and is well known to party donors.

But his impending candidacy is not clearing the field of Republican rivals.

On Friday, Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-area marketing consultant, launched a new cable TV ad campaign and state Sen. Doug Mastriano began fundraising for a gubernatorial campaign.

On Saturday, seven gubernatorial hopefuls were expected at a Tioga County Republican Party dinner, while in Delaware County, Dave White, who runs a large plumbing and HVAC firm, is formally announcing his candidacy.

The field’s best-known candidate is perhaps Lou Barletta, a former four-term member of Congress who was the Republican nominee in his 2018 loss to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and a prominent loyalist of former President Donald Trump.

Corman’s standing with Trump loyalists is mixed, at best.

Over the summer, Trump and his allies in the baseless quest to prove that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election had held up Corman as an obstacle, before Corman embraced it.

“I’m a hundred percent on board with this,” Corman declared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room online broadcast.

With Wolf in office since 2015, Corman has been part of a Republican leadership that sent more than 50 bills to certain veto on the Democrat’s desk, including legislation on abortion, elections, guns and to strip some of the authority Wolf wielded during the pandemic.

Republicans have rejected many of Wolf’s highest-profile priorities, including multi-billion-dollar tax increases, although Corman-led Senate Republicans compromised on raising the minimum wage and imposing a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry. Both died in the House.

Top Democrats in the Senate have generally viewed Corman as congenial, respecting the Senate as an institution and playing within its rules, even if they had had disagreements, said Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia.

But that changed in the past year, Williams said, as the politics of the 2020 election drove bare-knuckled partisan fights, including Republicans’ “election audit” that Democrats are now challenging in court.

Corman also has a long voting record that could be picked apart, including bipartisan measures that aged poorly and have become grist for primary attacks from the right against various Republican lawmakers.

For instance, he voted in 2005 for a broad government pay raise — rammed through without public hearings in the middle of the night — that stirred such a backlash that lawmakers three months later voted to rescind it.

In 2013, he voted along with Republican leaders for an increase in the gas tax and motorist fees to fund highway construction projects, a measure backed by business groups and labor unions. The law made Pennsylvania’s gas tax the second-highest in the nation.

Then in 2019, he and nearly every other Republican lawmaker voted for sweeping election legislation that, among other things, authorized no-excuse mail-in voting, mere months before Trump mounted a campaign to tar mail-in voting as rife with fraud.

Many Republicans have since soured on mail-in voting, with candidates on the gubernatorial campaign trail calling for the law’s repeal.

On the Democratic side, two-term state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s candidacy has thus far cleared the field of rivals.

Wolf is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.