Incumbent Governor Shapp easily dispelled a spirited challenge from Martin Mullen, a state representative from Philadelphia who was well known as a firebrand conservative opponent of abortion and pornography. With a short Republican bench, wealthy staffing executive Drew Lewis was the only serious contender in the race.
Shapp's popularity had waned somewhat since his coasted to victory in 1970; although he could claim to have saved the state from bankruptcy, he did so at the expense of large tax increases. Furthermore, Shapp, an unabashed liberal, had difficulty rekindling support from the state's rural, socially conservative regions. However, Shapp and Democrats as a whole got a huge boost from the Watergate scandal; with President Nixon's popularity in a tailspin, many of the top tier Republicans declined to run. Instead, the party turned to the wealthy businessman Lewis, who was able to project an "outsider" image. Lewis focused on local issues and greatly undercut Shapp in rural areas; despite lagging at the polls in traditional Democratic strongholds such as Pittsburgh and Scranton, Shapp preserved a moderate victory by winning the combined vote of suburban Philadelphia, an almost unthinkable accomplishment at the time.