Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks during a press conference on June 25, 2021 after the General Assembly approved the 2021-22 budget. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)
The highest-ranking Pennsylvania Senate Republican attempted to end his gubernatorial campaign — but it’s unclear if he could have had his name physically removed from the ballot even if he followed through with it.
In a filing on Tuesday afternoon, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said he was ending his campaign and asked the state’s Commonwealth Court to take his name off the May 17 primary ballot, just about a month away.
Just a few hours later, he withdrew the request. In a statement, Corman said he would stay in the race, citing a conversation with former President Donald Trump and a statement the former president issued slamming competitor Bill McSwain, a former federal prosecutor, earlier that day.
Trump “encouraged me to keep fighting,” Corman said, “and that’s what I’m going to do — keep fighting for the people of Pennsylvania.”
But reached by phone Tuesday afternoon in the period between Corman’s filings, county election officials made clear that regardless of what Corman may have wanted at the time, his name was going to be in front of voters on primary day.
Dauphin County election director Jerry Feaser was succinct: “Too late.”
Before the court condensed the primary calendar due to redistricting delays, the last day for candidates to withdraw according to the Department of State’s old calendar was March 23. But while candidates had to collect signatures later to accommodate the new maps, the primary date was not moved, putting extra pressure on county elections staff.
Under the adjusted calendar, challenges for statewide candidates were supposed to be over by March 29, and the lottery deciding the ballot position was held on March 30.
Absentee ballots for overseas and military voters were also supposed to have been sent by April 2 to give those voters time to return their ballots.
And election officials across the state’s 67 counties have already begun printing test batches of their ballots, a process that Feaser said takes at least a week and a half to set up.
Changing the physical ballot at so late an hour would likely be impossible for all but a small number of counties, Feaser noted, unless they delayed sending mail-in ballots out to voters until late April, giving voters at most two weeks to fill out and return them.
If the Corman campaign was aware of these logistical concerns, they didn’t factor into the about-face, a spokesperson told the Capital-Star.
“Jake’s decision was based on the reasons he laid out yesterday,” the spokesperson, David La Torre, said in an email.
A source close to the Corman campaign added that “the Commonwealth Court has that authority, and they were willing to grant it until we withdrew the withdrawal.” They pointed to the fact that the Commonwealth Court had until Wednesday to decide on ballot challenges for state legislative candidates.
County officials, such as Lycoming County elections director Forrest Lehman, didn’t doubt the court’s authority. But a last-minute decision would have consequences for county officials scrambling to run this year’s election.
“Historically Pennsylvania courts have a long history of not caring about election deadlines,” he said. “They’ll let anyone petition the court for anything and issue an order that is impossible for anyone to comply with.”
For the counties already past the point of no return, the most likely outcome would be placing notices in with mail-in ballots and at polling places that Corman had dropped out, and any vote for him would be discarded.
Corman’s two-step comes in the home stretch of the primary, and as Trump has started to offer thoughts on the state’s key races.
On Saturday, he endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Then, Tuesday morning, Trump attacked McSwain, whom he’d appointed to be a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, for not doing enough to help overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election off of baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
“Do not vote for Bill McSwain, a coward, who let our country down,” Trump said in the statement. “He knew what was happening and let it go. It was there for the taking and he failed so badly.”
In a response, McSwain said that he is proud of his record as a United States Attorney, including prosecuting voter fraud and putting “rioters and looters in jail”
“When I’m Governor, we’re going to get back to a voting system that everyone has confidence in, and that begins with repealing the unconstitutional Act 77 that Doug Mastriano voted for,” he added.
As for Corman, he has mostly lagged in the polls behind other candidates in the nine candidate field, such as McSwain, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, Senate rival Doug Mastriano, and former Delaware County Councilmember Dave White.
In a statement, Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesperson Marisa Nahem said that Tuesday’s chaos showed that “every GOP candidate for Governor cares more about a Florida resident than the people of Pennsylvania.”
“Trump effectively ended Bill McSwain’s campaign and made 23-year Harrisburg fixture Jake Corman embarrass himself by withdrawing, and then un-withdrawing from the messy primary race,” she added. “With just over a month to go in the GOP race, the past 24-hours were a glaring reminder that the ‘Trump Primary’ truly is all about Donald Trump instead of Pennsylvania families. Buckle up.”
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