HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Just when Pennsylvania voters were getting used to the idea of a gubernatorial election showdown between Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, other hopefuls may soon be joining the fray.
Third-party candidates — the nominees of smaller political parties as well as independent candidates running outside any party organization — have until Friday to turn in enough petition signatures to qualify for the Nov. 4 election ballot.
Such candidates rarely run up big vote totals and often tout agendas that scrape against mainstream political views. Their campaigns usually run on a shoestring budget and might not change the outcome of an election, but they can steer the discussion into areas that might not otherwise receive attention.
"It's a pulpit that nobody else has," said Peg Luksik, a Johnstown conservative activist who turned heads when she racked up more than 10 percent of the vote as the Constitutional Party nominee for governor in the 1994 and 1998 elections. Republican Tom Ridge won in both those years.
Once certified as a candidate, a third-party hopeful can influence the campaign by presenting ideas "in a way that they have to be responded to," Luksik said. The other candidates "have to respond because they (have) to participate in debates," she said.
Potential third-party contenders include Libertarian Party candidate Ken Krawchuk, an information technology consultant from the Philadelphia suburbs who is making his third gubernatorial bid, and Green Party nominee Paul Glover, a longtime activist and political organizer in Philadelphia.
Each man will have had five months to collect the signatures of at least 16,638 voters to get on the general-election ballot. Major party candidates need only 2,000 signatures to get on the statewide primary ballot; voters will then decide who the nominee will be.
Glover advocates a ban on natural gas drilling that involves hydraulic fracturing and the legalization of marijuana. He wants to shift spending away from prisons and into education and enact a progressive income tax that places more of the burden on the wealthiest taxpayers.
"I'm greedy for social justice," he said.
Glover said his signature gatherers "are close to the goal," but Krawchuk was less optimistic.
"I think it's going to be a close thing," Krawchuk said.
No third-party candidate for governor has qualified for the ballot in more than a decade.
This year, Ardmore businessman and conservative activist Bob Guzzardi gathered enough signatures to challenge Corbett in the May GOP primary. But the state Supreme Court upheld a challenge backed by the state Republican Party, which wanted an uncontested primary, and struck Guzzardi's name from the ballot for not filing a statement of financial interests with the State Ethics Commission on time.
Guzzardi said the experience convinced him that "statewide races are too big for an independent to influence."
"State Senate and House primaries are where the action is. Primaries are an opportunity to engage at local and grassroots level," he said in an email.
Luksik said self-confidence is critical for candidates who run against the major parties.
"If you don't think (victory) is at least a possibility, you can't get up in the morning," she said.
Peter Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.