In a crowded field, several leading Republican candidates for governor hail from the Delaware Valley, and party officials and strategists are optimistic the GOP could ride gains in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs to victory in November’s election.

More than a dozen candidates are in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who is term-limited. Early straw polls, endorsements, and fundraising results have a handful of Philadelphia-area candidates attracting attention.

“We have several top-tier candidates from the Philly area,” noted GOP strategist Charlie O’Neill. “The candidates from the western part of the state just aren’t as strong.”

One of these Philadelphia-area candidates, business-owner Dave White, earned the most votes during the recent Central Caucus of the Republican State Committee straw poll. He also won a significant victory in the southwest Pennsylvania GOP straw poll last weekend. White won twice as many votes from committee members than any other candidate.

Meanwhile, former U.S. attorney Bill McSwain won the endorsement of Commonwealth Partners, a Harrisburg-based business organization that can provide key fundraising support.

White’s early success can be attributed to his early start in the campaign, as well as his small business success story that connects with voters, O’Neil observed.

“White got out early and visited personally with people,” he said. “He’s a lunch pail kind of guy that made good, and that’s appealing to a lot of folks.”

Other gubernatorial candidates with Delaware Valley connections are:

Guy Ciarrocchi, who touts business leadership credentials with the suburban Philadelphia area Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry;

Charlie Gerow, a conservative activist now based out of Harrisburg, who grew up in Warminster. and still has strong, local ties.

Joe Gale, a member of the Philadelphia-area Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and controversial conservative firebrand. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.

However, both O’Neill and Dick Stewart, co-chair of the Central Caucus of the Republican State Committee, said that for most Republican voters, it matters less about where the candidate is from and more about whether they are positioned to challenge Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general and likely Democratic candidate.

“We’re looking for the confidence that, that individual is the one to beat Josh Shapiro,” Stewart said.

Some members of the Central Caucus got their first look at the candidates during the Jan. 15 meeting before voting in a straw poll. At this point, Stewart said the top five vote-getters probably had the best chance at winning the nomination, which included White (21), McSwain (17), former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (16), Gerow (12), and Martin (12).

Republicans are enjoying a surge in support in the Pittsburgh area, but that doesn’t mean the Delaware Valley will not be an important political battleground. In fact, O’Neill cites last November’s New Jersey governor’s race as evidence Republicans can win in 2022. While Republican Jack Ciattarelli did not win his race against the incumbent Democratic governor, his close showing in a state bordering the Philadelphia suburbs is encouraging, O’Neill added.

“It shows there’s a desire for change in these Democratic strongholds,” said O’Neill, who also pointed to Republican Glen Youngkin’s victory over the incumbent Democratic governor in nearby Virginia, a state which had been trending toward Democrats in recent cycles. “Candidates should be looking to the Glen Youngkin model for their campaign and see how he was able to succeed in the suburbs.”

Also running in the GOP gubernatorial primary are former Congressman Lou Barletta, businessman Shawn Berger, former Congresswoman Melissa Hart, state Sen. Scott Martin, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and businessman John Ventre.

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