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 WLVT-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 said he still hopes to become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
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.
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, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Treasurer Joe Torsella — and a statewide voter registration advantage over Republicans.
Democrats also have an advantage in recent history: their party have won four out of the last five races for governor.
Republicans, meanwhile, are left without any natural heir or obvious front-runner for either governor or U.S. Senate. They have nine members of the U.S. House — as do Democrats — and they have a couple of big-city U.S. attorneys, Scott Brady and William McSwain, who are believed to be politically ambitious.
Two of the last three Republican governors — Dick Thornburgh and Tom Corbett — served as the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh before they won a governor’s race.
Among those Republicans expressing interest in running for governor, either privately or publicly, is freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser.
“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.
In midterm elections, the party of the president tends to lose seats in Congress, raising the possibility that the advantage in 2022 will go to the party that loses November’s presidential election.
Charles Gerow, a Harrisburg-based media strategist for Republican candidates, said of critical importance to would-be candidates is the result of the Nov. 3 presidential election and how Trump performs in Pennsylvania.
If Trump wins, it could encourage more people to run, Gerow said.
“There certainly is a consideration as to how the president fares, not only nationally, but in Pennsylvania,” Gerow said. “Folks are going to look at the result of Nov. 3 very carefully, and some may look at those results before joining the fray and deciding to actually run.”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.
___ This story has been corrected to show that Toomey has said he still hopes to become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, not the Senate.