GOP fears far-right candidate will run for PA governor

HARRISBURG, PA. (AP) — Six days into the Pennsylvania primary election, Republicans are openly worried that a leading candidate in the GOP’s crowded field won’t be elected in the fall general election and the party will miss an opportunity to seize power. The executive suite of the battlefield state.

Doug Mastriano, 58, a state senator since 2019 and a retired US Army colonel, is running against the right of the nine-member Republican field and the founding of the party in a state still plagued by the baseless conspiracy theories of former President Donald Trump stole by the Democrats. The 2020 elections are there.

Mastriano is a leading seller of unsubstantiated claims that widespread fraud shadowed the 2020 election and that Democratic Government Tom Wolf was responsible for thousands of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. He downplayed efforts to contain the virus and spread conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

This has long plagued Republican Party officials and movement conservatives about Mastriano’s prospects in a fall general election game against Democrat Josh Shapiro, and they’ve begun to speak out more about it.

On Monday, state Senate Republican floor leader Kim Ward endorsed rival candidate Dave White and elected Mastriano for failing to attract the moderate voters needed to win a general election in Pennsylvania.

“He appeals to core Republicans, but I fear the Democrats will destroy him with undecided voters,” Ward wrote on his personal Facebook page. He added that “winning the primary and losing the general is not a win, as the candidate failed to put the voters in the middle.”

Mike McMonagle, president of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Coalition, said that Mastriano received the highest marks from his foundation because he supported a complete ban of abortion without exception. But the organization approves of White, at least in part, because Mastriano “will be smashed by Shapiro in the general election, in our view.”

Republicans have been shut out of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial office since 2014 to Democratic Government Tom Wolf, who has been barred from running for re-election due to tenure restrictions.

Losing the contest again this year means Republicans are wasting their turn: The party has won office back in every election since a term-limited Democrat left since the state’s constitution was changed in 1968 to allow governors to serve two terms.

But Republicans worry that Mastriano is too toxic to win moderate Republican voters and undecided voters in the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, endangering low-voting GOP candidates with a lackluster top turnout.

Mastriano suddenly became a rising force in right-wing politics in 2020.

At the start of the pandemic, he spearheaded anti-closure rallies by live-streaming daily conversations on Facebook and playing conspiracy theorists. He became a key figure in Trump’s effort to reverse his 2020 presidential election loss, earning Mastriano a subpoena by the congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.

Democrats began to pay more attention to Mastriano by portraying him as an extremist in an attempt to weaken him ahead of the general election.

In recent days, Democrats have posted digital ads and flyers attacking Mastriano; Shapiro, on the other hand, aired a statewide TV ad, portraying Mastriano as extremist for his support of the abortion ban, his promise to cancel the mail-in ballot, and his conspiracy-driven attempts to investigate 2020. vote.

The closing words are, if Mastriano wins, “It’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.”

“Doug Mastriano will push our community backwards with an extreme agenda; Shapiro’s campaign doesn’t belong anywhere near the governor’s office,” he said in a statement.

In a phone call with the Lancaster-based LNP news outlet, Mastriano said Shapiro’s attack would “definitely” help him win the primary race.

“I’ll have to send him a thank you card,” Mastriano told the LNP. He added that Shapiro underestimated him and was in “panic mode” at the prospect that the Republican establishment would make him the party’s nominee.

Neither Trump nor the state’s Republican Party endorsed the primary race, leaving it much more open. And Mastriano, once thought of as an extreme candidate, exceeded expectations in a field where some candidates started with a lot more money or name recognition.

A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll showed that 20% of GOP primary voters said they supported Doug Mastriano. Bill McSwain and Lou Barletta pulled back slightly with 12% and 11% respectively.

Yet a large constituency, or one-third, said they were undecided, and even about half of those who said they supported a candidate would change their minds.

Mastriano first gained followers by leading anti-closure rallies in the early months of the pandemic, then became one of Trump’s most devoted supporters during the 2020 campaign.

He worked with Trump to reverse the results, arranging bus trips to the US Capitol for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, and later in footage, his wife was seen driving through barricades set up by the Capitol Police.

He claimed on a radio show last May that Trump “asked me” to run for governor.

In the weeks that followed, he tried to initiate an Arizona-style partisan “audit” of the 2020 election – only to be stripped of his committee chair by the state Senate GOP leadership in the conflict over funding and hiring contractors.

Mastriano boasted that it was more conservative than its rivals, attracted larger crowds, and was not a politician, a class he mocked as corrupt.

He frequently campaigns with key figures who spread denial about the 2020 election around Trump, including Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorney Jenna Ellis. And he campaigns with strong Christian themes, prays at campaign events, enriches his speech with quotes from the Bible, and calls for fasting for the last 21 days of primary education.

“So let’s stand strong together, take back our state, and I believe there will be a revival here that we’ve never seen before when Pennsylvania is restored,” Mastriano said to an audience during a week-long bus tour in Somerset on Monday. “And it will bring our nation back to where it should be, in God.”

A general election cycle will bring new challenges for Mastriano.

He largely avoided speaking to independent media outlets, including The Associated Press, and barred reporters from campaign activities. Last week, she went to the conservative Delaware Valley Journal podcast before experiencing what the organization calls a “meltdown” and hanging up 20 minutes later.

What moved Mastriano were questions about his recent speech to an audience of QAnon supporters, allegations of election fraud, and his activities in the Capitol on January 6.

The subpoena from the January 6 committee came up in the only live television primary debate that Mastriano has ever attended. He insisted that he had no “legal issues”.

Meanwhile, Shapiro united the Democratic Party and its allies.

Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, said many Republicans were concerned about Mastriano’s lack of attractiveness.

But he said the Republicans would need Mastriano and his constituents and vice versa to beat Shapiro, regardless of who won the primary election.

“The whole Republican party better be behind the winner,” Ball said, “because Josh Shapiro is still out there.”

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For full coverage of the midterms, follow the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.

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