Lancaster County Sen. Scott Martin announced Tuesday that he may enter the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary where, he said, he believes his “strong conservative record” may appeal to many types of conservatives and help him stand out in an already crowded field.
That field already includes candidates closely aligned with former President Donald Trump -- such as state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin County, and former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta. And it includes wealthy Pittsburgh attorney Jason Richey, who’s pegging his campaign to a proposal to eliminate Pennsylvania’s income tax.
Enter Martin, the state senator coming off reelection to a second term representing the southern half of Lancaster County. He won that race by 11 percentage points last fall despite being outspent two-to-one by his Democratic challenger.
Martin will need to appeal to the two loudest groups of Republican voters: those who support Trump and his populist values, and those who want the party to stress traditional small government, low tax policies and are conservative on key social issues like abortion. If he’s able to do this, he’d be a “formidable” candidate, said Stephen Medvic, a government professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
Martin appears to be trying that very strategy. He said his goal is to set himself apart as a candidate with a “good, solid conservative record,” both as a senator and previously as county commissioner. In his announcement, he listed his top priorities as limiting government, supporting small businesses and the free market, protecting the 2nd Amendment and opposing abortion.
“I want to see Pennsylvania really turn the corner,” Martin said. “It feels like we’re always the lowest rung of things, like the highest gas tax… When your fastest growing age demographic is 85 and above and you have difficulty in retaining young people, all these trends tell me that we’re not on the right track.”
Martin said he believes his record of “making government work better and making tough decisions” will appeal to voters.
“Everyone is going to bring a different vision to the table, and we’ll see what draws people,” Martin said.
Political calculations and relationships
Martin said he’s already traveled all over the state talking to Republicans about his potential candidacy, and he plans to continue these travels to reach more voters this summer before making a decision. Martin’s close colleague, Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, who represents the northern part of Lancaster County, tweeted his support for Martin Tuesday, saying he believes his fellow Lancastrian would make “an outstanding governor."
Usually, candidates who announce exploratory committees have already decided to run. But that may not be the case with Martin, Medvic said, theorizing that Martin is actually using the committee for its intended purpose.
“If you’re a conventional politician, you’re gonna be a little cautious about when you run for which office,” Medvic said. “Sen. Martin has a lot to do, asking the questions, ‘Is this the right time [to run]? Is this the right office?’”
With the launch of an exploratory committee, Martin can now fundraise and spend campaign dollars to test the waters, Medvic noted. After his race for reelection, Martin is sitting on less than $28,000 in his campaign account as of May 3.
This exploratory committee is an informal operation at this time, Martin said in a phone interview Tuesday. It will be made up of members of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County and others within his political network. Martin plans to make a final decision about whether he’ll enter the race later this summer, he said.
Martin said he loves his job in the Senate, but as the state’s chief executive, he believes he could address “broader issues with the Commonwealth where there could be a more streamlined approach.”
He said he began seriously considering a gubernatorial run this winter, after a hip surgery left him with a lot of time to think about how the state is being run. After receiving his family’s blessing, he decided to make his potential candidacy official on Tuesday.
Martin is a more “conventional kind of candidate” who could appeal to establishment Republicans, Medvic said, even though Martin holds very conservative views.
“Does style trump substance? Are the theatrics that indicate you’re a true Trumpian more important to Republican primary voters next year, or will it be a solid record of legislating and being a serious candidate for governor?” Medvic said. “Martin’s goal would probably be to straddle that line as perfectly as possible.”
The Republican party should consider statewide electability over ideological purity, based on the outcome of the 2018 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, in which Trump-aligned candidates lost by big margins, Medvic said. But party leaders will also need to consider 2016, when the party “threw electability out the window” and supported Trump.
If Martin officially joins the race, his list of opponents is expected to include not just Barletta, Mastriano and Richey. Already running is Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain are eyeing the race.
Democrats, meanwhile, appear to be united around state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Martin mentioned he has another qualification for being Pennsylvania’s next governor: "I love public speaking and engaging people and getting feedback," he said. "I’ve been to many places, given speeches and am comfortable in that role."