Political Forum with Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, and Democrat Janet Diaz

FILE: Pennsylvania State Senator Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, serving the 13th District, speaks during a political forum livestream with Democratic challenger Lancaster City Council Woman Janet Diaz, in the LNP office at 101NQ in Lancaster Thursday Oct. 15, 2020.

State Sen. Scott Martin is officially entering Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for governor Saturday, launching a campaign he hopes will rise above a crowded and well-funded Republican field by leaning on his relatability as a parent and small business owner and on his solid conservative legislative record.

The former Lancaster County commissioner, who has represented the southern half of the county in the state Senate since 2016, now faces a throng of experienced politicians, wealthy businessmen and some of his own colleagues in the Senate, including the leader of his party in Harrisburg.

Martin announced his candidacy Saturday on his campaign Facebook in a pre-recorded video from his Martic Township home, wearing a blue button-up shirt and vest with his sleeves rolled up. The nearly nine-minute announcement was given in front of his family Christmas tree, with some photos of his family hanging on the wall in the background.

“I’m running for governor, not because I seek some grand title or big lofty perch,” Martin said in the pre-recorded campaign announcement. “I’m doing it because I know we can change everything for families and small businesses by focusing on the small things government can actually do to get out of the way and ignite and empower our greatest resource: our people.”

If elected, he would be the first Lancaster County politician to become governor, and the first person to go straight from the Legislature to the governor’s office since George Leader in 1954.

Martin said he knows it’ll be no easy feat. In an interview with LNP | LancasterOnline before his official announcement, he said he’ll focus on his accomplishments in his dozen-plus years in county and state elected office, such as fighting to expand funding for pediatric cancer research and being one of the primary sponsors of a ballot referendum last spring that took away some of Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration powers. 

He intends to focus his campaign on renewing Pennsylvania as a top state to live in, and improving the collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of state government.

In the six months since he said he was exploring the race, Martin has pointed to the state’s fast-growing elderly population as cause for concern. He said he wants to improve the state’s reputation as an affordable place to live and work by reducing the state’s corporate tax rate and by bolstering the state’s trade schools. 

“I want Pennsylvania to be a state that is growing, that people want to stay here, grow their families here, grow their small businesses here,” he said. “I want people to come here and move here, too, and we have not been that for a very long time.”

However, in the interview, Martin offered few specific policy proposals, preferring instead to stress his political and personal background. He noted his role with Woo-Cat Management LLC, a property and home-owners association management company he owns with his wife, county Treasurer Amber Martin. The business manages more than 10,000 units, he said. He also mentioned his perspective as a father of four children, who, between them, attend three different schools, private or public.

In his announcement Saturday, Martin spent a good chunk of his time recalling the lessons he learned as a successful college and professional football player and state wrestling champion, mentioning sports or sports analogies more than 15 times in his speech.

“The best teams were the teams that focused on all the little things day-in and day-out,  the best teammates were the ones who cared about the small things on off days, practice days, and especially game days,” Martin said in his announcement. “We didn’t win games without doing all the basic things – the little things – and doing them right.”

In addition to these sports references, Martin used his nearly nine-minute announcement to hit many popular words and phrases among conservative voters, like talking about the “Hollywood elite'' and “big tech,” as well as emphasizing the importance of protecting Pennsylvania taxpayers, school choice and election security.

Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Pennsylvania Republican political consultant, said Martin “has a nice story to tell,” from growing up with a father in law enforcement, to his college football days at Millersville University, to his time in elected county and state offices.

“He certainly looks the part,” Nicholas said.

The challenge for Martin, like anyone else, is being able to transition from campaigning in a single legislative district to mounting a campaign across all corners of a very diverse state, Nicholas said.

“Scott Martin has a good record in the Senate. He’s visible. He’s accessible. He had a stellar victory last year in the Senate race” that had a relatively narrow Republican registration advantage and a well-funded Democratic opponent, Nicholas said.

In the days before Thanksgiving – after spending the last six months traveling to two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties – Martin sat down with his wife and kids to discuss whether he should run.

“They’ve been through some pseudo-intense campaigns before,” Martin said. “As a dad, it’s important to me that they know they’re still the most incredible part of my life with my family, and it’s my job to make sure they’re never feeling lost in this.”

Martin said his family is “pretty excited” about his campaign for governor. At the same time, “I always do my best that whatever Dad really needs to be at, I’m there for them and that I love them.”

WIDE-OPEN FIELD

Martin, 49, joins a wide-open field that includes his colleague and party leader in Harrisburg, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and, likely, state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County. 

Other names in the running include former U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta and Melissa Hart, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, former Delaware County Council member Dave White, political consultant Charlie Gerow, former Chester County Chamber of Commerce leader Guy Ciarrocchi, Pittsburgh attorney Jason Richey, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Nche Zama and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale. Former House Speaker Mike Turzai also said he may join the fray.

The field will likely narrow in the coming months. Candidates will be required to circulate nominating petitions beginning in February in order to get their names on May primary ballots.

Before the petition-gathering period, members of the Pennsylvania Republican Party will gather in Lancaster County in early February to weigh an endorsement, a move which could significantly clear the field. Martin said he wouldn’t commit to running in the primary if the party endorsed another candidate.

Another pivotal endorsement, of course, could be that of former President Donald Trump. Several candidates have angled for Trump’s endorsement and have toed the line between supporting Trump’s brand of populism -- including his lies about rampant election fraud in Pennsylvania in 2020 -- and focusing on traditional conservative policies.

But Martin said he hasn’t asked Trump for his endorsement, and doesn’t have any plans to yet.

“I did support the president and many of his policies,” Martin said. “When you look at where we’re at now with the state of our country in many different ways with inflation and people not working, I think there is a difference in what we have in the White House. But I’ll be honest, for me personally, this race is about Pennsylvania’s future and nothing else.”

Stephen Medvic, a government professor at Franklin & Marshall College, said Martin is a “formidable candidate” because of his legislative record and experience connecting with local party leaders, volunteers and donors, whose courtship makes up what some refer to as the “invisible primary” to gain support from the party’s most organized voters.

But still, the open question, Medvic said, is, “Where is the center of gravity right now in the party?”

“Does it require the appeals to a Trumpian style or loyalty to Trump himself? Or can you just rest on a very conservative record?” he said.

NO CHEAP THING

Martin now must compete with experienced party fundraisers in a race that will ultimately cost the Republican and Democratic nominees tens of millions of dollars. 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the expected Democratic nominee, launched his campaign in October with $10 million in the bank. 

Martin, meanwhile, had $39,499 on hand as of Nov. 22, according to his latest campaign filing.

He raised and spent more than $1 million leading up to his re-election in the southern Lancaster County Senate district last year. He won that race by double-digits even as Democrats poured a record amount into his opponent’s campaign, outspending Martin in the end.

According to campaign finance reports, Martin’s largest single donor over the years is someone who’s also in the race -- Corman, the Senate president pro tempore.

During his nearly 23-year legislative career, Corman has been one of his party’s most proficient fundraisers, raising $5.2 million in 2020-21 and more than $15 million overall since 2000. He’s given Martin’s campaigns $246,000 over the years, according to campaign finance filings.

Corman has also been the largest donor to Sen. Dan Laughlin, an Erie Republican who had also seriously considered running but dropped out last week. Laughlin told the Erie Times News he wouldn’t run for governor mostly because he couldn’t raise the $350,000 to $400,000 he thought he needed by now.

Martin, however, said he’ll run “as far as the money” takes him, and did not offer any benchmarks for how much he needs to raise to run a competitive campaign. He’s been getting more financial commitments since he made the decision to actually enter the race, he said, which reached around Thanksgiving. He’ll also be investing some of his own money into the race.

“It’s an ongoing process, and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said.

One difference-maker could be the endorsement of a group that has become the largest single donor in Pennsylvania elections in recent years. Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, a conservative political nonprofit in Harrisburg, is looking to endorse in the race and has $20 million in one of its political action committees, the Associated Press reported last week. The group has spent millions on state races thanks to donations from billionaire school-choice advocate Jeffrey Yass. Martin’s 2020 re-election was one of a few in which the group spent six-figures as it sought to protect the Republican majorities in the Legislature.

Martin said he’s met with Commonwealth Partners to seek their endorsement, and he will be trying to capture support from “other individuals or groups” that will be endorsing in the crowded primary.

LANCASTER LIFT?

Martin’s local support could become important in a large, divided primary. 

Lancaster County, where Martin served eight years as commissioner, is one of the largest sources of Republican voters in the state and has a long history of well-organized GOP politics. The sixth-most populous county, it’s home to the fourth-most number of Republican voters -- 176,360, as of early December.

Geography was a role, for example, in the 2017 Republican primary when the county’s then-District Attorney Craig Stedman was the leading vote-getter in a field of five statewide candidates for Superior Court. Stedman lost in the general election and later was elected to Lancaster County’s Court of Common Pleas.

Several other Lancaster County politicians -- both Republican and Democrat -- have launched statewide campaigns in recent years. Each either lost at the ballot box or abandoned their efforts before any votes were cast. 

Republican Dennis Stuckey, who served with Martin on the Board of Commissioners, briefly floated a run for auditor general in 2020. Former congressional candidate Christina Hartman ran for auditor general on the Democratic side that year and came in third in a six-way primary.

Former Republican state Rep. Gordon Denlinger and Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman both had short-lived campaigns for lieutenant governor in 2018.

And Chet Beiler, a former Lancaster County GOP chairman and businessman, came up short in bids for lieutenant governor and auditor general in multiple years.

Medvic said the local GOP base will be important, but definitely not everything in a field that will likely get smaller by the May primary vote.

“The person who emerges will have a pretty broad base of support,” Medvic said.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom, said Martin has "the right set of experiences, both legislative and executive" to make him stand out in this race.

"I’m very excited about his run for governor," Cutler said. "I've enjoyed working with him as a senator and prior to that as a county commissioner."

Martin, for his part, said he thinks he’ll have that statewide appeal. He cited his work as chair of the Senate Education Committee and previously the Local Government Committee, roles that took him across the state, as well as his eight-year term as chair of the Republican Caucus of County Commissioners.

“We have a great base of support in Lancaster County, but also I think we’ve done a lot of good work for folks all across the state,” Martin said.

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