BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania will not seek reelection in 2022 and plans to leave public service, he confirmed, a surprise move for the fiercely anti-tax and anti-regulation lawmaker who had been seen as the favorite to be the party’s nominee for governor in two years.
Toomey’s decision will force Pennsylvania Republicans to look elsewhere for candidates — and to a wide-open field — for both seats in a politically divided state where both parties have shown they can win statewide races.
At a news conference near his home in suburban Allentown, Toomey said he will serve out the final two years of his second term, “and after that my plan is to go back to the private sector.”
“I always thought that I’d probably serve just two terms and often mentioned that along the way,” Toomey said at the news conference at the studios of WVLT-TV, standing with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is 10.
Toomey, 58, called his reasons “personal, not political,” and said that 18 years in public office, including six years in the U.S. House from 1999 through 2004, is a long time and had demanded sacrifices from his family.
Toomey had long expressed an interest in running for governor, and he drew calls on a daily basis from people who he said wanted to help him run for governor or for reelection to the Senate.
Once his mind was made up, he said, he felt he should be candid about it.
“I’m looking forward to more time back at home,” he said.
Toomey is a stalwart proponent of free markets and smaller government who was staunchly supported in the past by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and the Club for Growth, the take-no-prisoners free-markets advocacy group Toomey once led.
Toomey said he still hopes to become chairman of the Senate.
But Toomey had often expressed frustration with how the Senate operates and had never promised to run for a third term. Still, the news of his future plans that broke Sunday has reshuffled the deck for Republicans looking ahead to the two major statewide races in two years.
As Pennsylvania’s only statewide elected Republican official outside of the courts, Toomey had been widely considered the favorite to be the gubernatorial nominee if he wanted it in 2022, when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited.
With both offices open in 2022, Democrats have a bench of prospects who have won statewide races — Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Treasurer Joe Torsella — and a statewide voter registration advantage over Republicans.
Democrats also have an advantage in recent history. Democrats have won four out of the last five races for governor.
Republicans are left without any natural heir or obvious front-runner for either governor or U.S. Senate.
Among those Republican expressing interest in running for governor, either privately or publicly, is freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, who also served as revenue secretary under former Gov. Tom Corbett.
“It’s something that’s of sincere interest,” said Meuser, who hails from northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County and, with a portion of his district viewed as swing territory in the presidential election, is a regular at appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The last time anything similar happened — both offices open — was in 2010, when then-Gov. Ed Rendell was term-limited and then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties to become a Democrat in his reelection bid. He was beaten in the primary.
The advantage is likely to go to the party that loses November’s presidential elections. In midterm elections, the party of the president tends to lose seats in Congress.