As presidential gossip grows, Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro readies for a trip to New Hampshire
As America gears up for another potentially bruising presidential election in 2024, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro may have 2028 on his mind when he visits New Hampshire this weekend.
Less than nine months into his first term leading Pennsylvania, Shapiro will be the headline speaker at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention this Saturday in Bedford, N.H. There, he'll speak to hundreds of Granite State Democrats who are in the home stretch of local elections and preparing for presidential, gubernatorial and congressional races in 2024.
Despite having spent little time in the governor's mansion, Shapiro is already being spoken about as a future Democratic presidential candidate. He walloped state Sen. Doug Mastriano in last year's governor's race by a 15-point margin, becoming the first Pennsylvania Democrat to succeed a Democratic incumbent in 64 years. Pennsylvania's status as a critical swing state only enhanced his profile in national circles, said Christopher Borick, professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.
Shapiro is a highly ambitious politician with a history of playing the long game in politics, Borick said. Over nearly 20 years as a public official, Shapiro has built up his name recognition, resources and a reputation to a degree few others in the Keystone State can match, he said.
Plus, Shapiro's an extremely disciplined candidate, Borick said. It makes sense he would begin making inroads with an early primary state now, even if there's little to no chance he'll be a candidate in next year's presidential election, he said.
"I think he certainly wants to be president of the United States, and I think he is not going to skimp on a foundational layer," Borick said about building connections in New Hampshire.
Shapiro has been on record saying he hopes to be governor of Pennsylvania for a long time, but his actions are in line with other high-profile politicians who have eyed higher office, said Christopher Galdieri, a politics professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
Galdieri recalled when then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper happened to take a summer vacation to New Hampshire a few years ago and coincidentally delivered a speech to a few dozen small business leaders during his stay. Hickenlooper, now a U.S. senator, launched a presidential campaign not long after, though he dropped out in 2019 before the primaries started.
"If you are an ambitious politician who is thinking about running for president, you find reason to come to New Hampshire," Gadlieri said.
If Shapiro is interested in landing in the Oval Office, Galdieri said his profile could be an appealing one to New Hampshire residents. Generally speaking, voters there value competence over pizzazz, he said. For example, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has won four two-year terms while governing as a conservative, but he's done so without making culture wars the center of his persona, Galdieri said.
Shapiro's story would fit the state's mindset, Galdieri said. He first rose to prominence in Pennsylvania politics when he brokered a power-sharing agreement in 2006 that decided control of the divided House of Representatives. After a stint as a Montgomery County commissioner, he gained national headlines as attorney general when he oversaw a grand jury investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
When Shapiro ran for governor, he positioned himself as someone capable of reaching across the aisle to achieve common goals. He earned multiple Republican endorsements, including backing from former Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent.
"If you're a politician who wants to go into a state where they care about getting stuff done rather than whatever is the cultural flashpoint of the moment, I think that is a really good calling card," Galdieri said.
"Getting stuff done" has been an unofficial motto for the Shapiro administration. It's a phrase he's repeated often, from praising the Lehigh Valley's history of collaboration to launching free breakfast for public school students. The most high-profile instance may be restoring Interstate 95 after a truck crash destroyed an overpass in Philadelphia. Emergency repairs allowed the highway to reopen in less than two weeks instead of months as originally projected.
But Shapiro's reputation may be benefiting from a honeymoon period as governor; there hasn't been enough time for people to notice potential warts. Still, Borick said, the governor's track record isn't spotless. In this year's budget process, he promised state Senate Republicans he would support their proposal for a $100 million private school voucher program in return for other budget concessions. But when the vouchers proved to be a deal breaker with House Democrats, he used his line-item veto power to remove it. The end result is a damaged relationship with Republicans and lingering questions about some state funding, Borick said.
"It certainly seemed like a misstep. When you have a record of making these deals like Shapiro, sometimes you might be overconfident," Borick said.
Shapiro may not be the only one looking to make a good first impression this weekend. New Hampshire is locked in a battle with the Democratic National Committee over the state's status for hosting the nation's first primary. With backing from President Joe Biden, who finished fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, the Democratic Party has bumped the Granite State's Democratic primary behind South Carolina's. However, the move has been opposed by New Hampshire lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, which could result in a rogue primary that's penalized by the Democratic Party.
In New Hampshire, politics is half-jokingly referred to as the state sport, Galdieri said. Preserving its importance in the presidential election cycle will be a top priority, he said. And making allies with rising political talents can't hurt that effort, he said.
"I think Democrats are probably going to instill in him the virtues of New Hampshire being first in the nation for the primary," Gadlieri said.