Thirty seconds after the start of his official campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro wanted to speak about the right to vote.
The new Democratic candidate announced his expected gubernatorial candidacy in a two-minute video that quickly addressed the issue. It’s a subject he is familiar with: As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Shapiro defended himself against a torrent of lawsuits brought by Donald J. Trump and his allies following the former president’s electoral defeat in 2020.
The 2022 gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were seen by Democrats as a leverage against a growing Republican wave of sweeping voting restrictions and election laws. All three states have Republican-controlled legislatures that have attempted to pass new election laws but have been blocked by the threat of a veto, and feature Republican candidates who have argued for new election laws.
Pennsylvania is the only state with an open race because current Governor Tom Wolf is limited to running again. Mr Wolf lent his support to Mr Shapiro years before his announcement, helping to clean up Democratic ground.
We spoke to Mr. Shapiro on Wednesday as he drove to his homecoming rally in Montgomery County.
This interview has been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.
Your announcement video focuses first and foremost on threats to democracy. How do you handle this as a candidate?
JOSH SHAPIRO: The right to vote will be a central issue in this election. And it will certainly be a central part of my campaign. There is a stark contrast between me and my dozen Republican opponents. They are spreading the big lie and sort of passing those far-right litmus tests with their audits. And they are causing real destruction to our democracy. I believe that a central objective of this campaign will be the preservation of our democracy and the protection of voting rights.
Are you worried about exaggerated threats to democracy, especially as the National Democrats in Congress remain deadlocked and fail to take drastic action to address them?
I think our democracy is really under threat. The only reason Pennsylvania did not suffer like Texas and Georgia with the reduced voting rights is because of our governor’s veto power. We need to protect voting rights. And I would like to work with people from both parties to expand voting rights.
What do you think the Democratic candidates are on and what should you focus on, especially when talking about these threats to voting rights in the country?
I don’t think I can speak for another candidate, I can only speak for myself. I am a proud Democrat from Pennsylvania, and here in Pennsylvania we have been the birthplace of our democracy. And we have a special responsibility here to protect it. And I believe the next governor of Pennsylvania will have a deep responsibility to do this job. You know where I am: expanding voting rights, protecting our democracy.
You refer to “working across the aisle” in your speech Wednesday in Pittsburgh. But with a Pennsylvania legislature that you are currently suing in an attempt to gain private information from voters, how do you plan to work with them?
I sued these Pennsylvania Republican senators because I believe they are breaking the law by compromising the private information of 9 million Pennsylvania voters. And indeed, today, as Attorney General, I will file a brief in response to this case. But the reason I think I can work with them and others is that I have a long track record throughout my career to bring the parties together, find common ground and move forward. things for the benefit of the Pennsylvanians.
But is there one aspect of voting rights where you’ve seen common ground with Republicans in the state legislature?
I’ve spoken to Republican commissioners, state lawmakers, and election officials who have all told me, let’s pass a law that allows us to pre-scan mail-in ballots like they do in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, for example. This is an example where we can find common ground.
The recall election in California showed how quickly allegations of “rigged elections” are being made. How do you see governing at a time when the winners are seen as illegitimate by some of their constituents?
Sadly, Republican leaders here in Pennsylvania have lied to their constituents for the past 10 months, lying to them about the election, lying to them about the results, when the truth is we have had a safe, free and fair election in Pennsylvania. . . So it’s no surprise to me that some people in the audience question things when their leaders have lied to them. Leaders have a responsibility to speak the truth. This is what I tried to do as the attorney general. And what I will certainly do as governor. The public deserves nothing less.
Democrats across the country saw success in 2018 with a focus on healthcare, drug prices and jobs. Now that focus seems lost amid infrastructure and a reconciliation bill. Are you concerned about showing up without a cohesive national message for Democrats?
I present myself as a Democrat from Pennsylvania, with a clear message to take on the big fights, bring people together, and deliver real results to the people of Pennsylvania. This is the object of my campaign.
OK, so would that involve messages from 2018 like healthcare and jobs? Or has it changed for something else?
The national issues you speak of are not my focus. My focus is on the issues on the ground here in Pennsylvania. I just spoke in Pittsburgh, for example, of how we need to rebuild our infrastructure, fix roads and bridges, and connect every Pennsylvanian to the internet from Waynesburg in southwestern Pennsylvania to west Philadelphia. Really take advantage of our universities to be able to become centers of innovation. To ensure that we address some of the systemic inequalities in our education and health care system here in Pennsylvania. These are the issues that I focus on, and these are the issues that I know are important to the good people of Pennsylvania.
But I think, going back to the first question you asked, it is more difficult to address these issues if we do not consolidate our democracy. And that’s why I think democracy and the right to vote are a central theme. And if we can make sure that our democracy is consolidated, then we can solve these other critically important issues.