Jake Corman, the top Republican in the Pennsylvania State Senate, ended his campaign for governor on Thursday and threw his support behind Lou Barletta, the former mayor and a former member of Congress currently running second in most polling.
The endorsement by Mr. Corman represents the starkest step yet for Republicans in the state who are trying to coalesce support behind one candidate in an effort to halt the current front-runner, Doug Mastriano, a freshmen state senator, before the state’s primary on Tuesday.
Mr. Mastriano, who burnished his image with the right-wing base by aggressively pursuing and promoting false claims about the 2020 election, has comfortably led in most polls in the state, but has rarely crested 30 percent within the large Republican primary field. He has made false election claims central to his platform, and has staked out far-right policy positions such as banning transgender bathrooms.
Yet Republican operatives in the state are concerned about Mr. Mastriano’s prospects in a potential general election matchup against Josh Shapiro, the current attorney general and the likely Democratic nominee. They view Mr. Mastriano’s closeness to the effort to overturn the 2020 election results as a likely drag on his candidacy and the party as a whole. In recent days, several of Mr. Mastriano’s Republican rivals have been gathering on private conference calls in a last-minute attempt to stop him.
“I think the right thing is to coalesce,” Mr. Corman said of endorsing Mr. Barletta. “It should have maybe happened a little sooner, but there’s still time, and that’s why I’m encouraging other candidates to do the same.”
Pennsylvania will be home to two of the most critical statewide elections in November, with races for an open Senate seat and an open governor’s chair. The race for governor holds added importance in the growing battle for control of elections, as the governor appoints the secretary of state.
Mr. Barletta said that he had not spoken to any other candidates about a potential endorsement, and that he had not attacked Mr. Mastriano. But he made a similar plea for a fusing of campaigns.
“It is increasingly evident that it is important for Republicans to get behind one candidate who can win a nomination and then actually beat Josh Shapiro in November,” Mr. Barletta said.
After Mr. Corman’s announcement, former Senator Rick Santorum released a statement offering his “emphatic endorsement” for Mr. Barletta. (Mr. Santorum had initially endorsed Mr. Corman.)
The Mastriano campaign did not respond to requests for comment.