HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republicans are warming up to Doug Mastriano.
When he crushed a field of nine people to win the republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania in May, some in the party warned that Mastriano’s far-right views on everything from abortion to the 2020 presidential election would squander an otherwise possible seat in a critical state in the field of battle. But now, as the general election season heats up, the Republican machine is gearing up to back Mastriano’s campaign and attack his Democratic rival, Josh Shapiro.
Mastriano spoke in Aspen, Colo., last week at a donor event sponsored by the Republican Governors Association. At the GOP’s “Rally at the Rock” campaign event in northern Pennsylvania earlier this month, independently elected state treasurer Stacy Garrity introduced Mastriano as “our next governor.” this month’s closed-door state party meeting and on Wednesday, a pair of top party officials will host a fundraiser for Mastriano.
In one of the most politically divided states in the United States, the Republican Party’s acceptance of a candidate who opposes abortion rights without exception spread Conspiracy theories on the 2020 election and was outside the US Capitol during the January 6 insurrection risks alienating moderate members of the party. But some Republicans say they have a duty to back their party’s candidate.
“When you play team sports, you learn what it means to be part of a team,” said Andy Reilly, a member of the state’s Republican Party national committee and co-host of Wednesday’s fundraiser. “Our team voted for him in the primary, and no matter how you look at it, his philosophies are much better for running the state than a career politician like Josh Shapiro.”
november elections has important implications.
Working with a Republican-controlled Legislature, Mastriano could dramatically reduce access to abortion. And he could appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, giving him tremendous power over elections in a state that is often decisive in presidential campaigns.
Perhaps with that in mind, some Republicans have been hesitant to openly support Mastriano.
The Republican Governors Association, typically a source of millions of dollars for Republican campaigns, has done almost nothing to publicly praise Mastriano, as it has for other Republican candidates.
But that could change as the fall campaign approaches. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, co-chairman of the RGA, told CNN this month that he wouldn’t rule out helping Mastriano and suggested the group would help if Shapiro appears beatable.
“The RGA’s job is to elect Republican governors, and that’s what we’re going to do this cycle,” Ducey said.
Mastriano and Shapiro are vying for the right to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is constitutionally term-limited after taking office in 2015.
Shapiro, a two-time state attorney general-elect, rallied the party behind his candidacy, ran an unopposed primary campaign and posted strong fundraising numbers. He also has ties to some prominent Republicans in Philadelphia and its densely populated suburbs.
His campaign recently released a list of former Republican elected officials who endorse him, while another group of Republicans has started a group called Republicans for Shapiro to sway votes against Mastriano.
Mastriano dismissed them as “old-fashioned.”
Still, the party’s traditional donor community statewide is, by many reports, sitting on their wallets at a time when Mastriano is far behind Shapiro in fundraising. That includes prominent Philadelphia-area donors and fundraisers who have long financed Republican campaigns but know Shapiro well and are likely to reject Mastriano’s socially conservative politics.
“That’s going to make it much more difficult for Mastriano to get into that kind of money from southeastern Pennsylvania, that group of big donors and fundraisers,” said David Urban, a Republican strategist who worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. .
Beyond that, Mastriano, as the party’s standard-bearer, is causing unrest, with some party officials refusing to speak officially about him.
The unifying theme is a distaste for Mastriano.
No Republican gubernatorial candidate in the US did more to subvert the 2020 presidential election than Mastriano, and no one may be better positioned to subvert the next one if elected governor.
He has rubbed elbows with QAnon conspiracy theorists, Trump’s most prominent election-denying allies, and people arrested in the US Capitol attack. His active account on Gab, a social networking site popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites where he also spent $5,000 on advertising, drew condemnation from the national Republican Jewish Coalition.
He has been one of the main propagators of Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania.
His plan to overturn the election results, introduced as a resolution in the Legislature, prompted a subpoena from the US House committee investigating the insurrection.
Mastriano later arranged bus rides to Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the US Capitol on Jan. 6, and can later be seen in photos walking past breached police lines to where he saw Pro-Trump protesters clash with police on the steps of the Capitol. . That prompted an interview with the FBI, although he has not been charged with any crime.
Then there is the one from Mastriano embrace of christian nationalism, which scholars generally define as advocating a fusion of American and Christian values, symbols, and identity. Christian nationalism, they say, is often accompanied by the belief that God has destined America, like biblical Israel, for a special role in history, and that it will receive divine blessing or judgment depending on its obedience.
Mastriano also condemned the Republican establishment, refusing to speak to most major media organizations and endorsing an abortion ban, with no exceptions, that alienates some party officials in Pennsylvania.
That, plus talk from Mastriano about decertifying voting machines, opposing gay marriage and ridiculing climate change as “fake science,” hasn’t escaped Shapiro, whose campaign is running a TV ad calling Mastriano “extreme and too risky for Pennsylvania.”
Once a primary victory for Mastriano seemed inevitable, Trump supported himdespite party leaders for fear of not being able to win enough moderate voters to beat Shapiro in November.
State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, a Republican from Westmoreland, who once warned that “the Democrats will destroy it with swing voters,” had dinner with Mastriano after the primary.
Ward said he told Mastriano that “he has my full support because I want a governor who won’t bow to the Biden administration and the Democrats’ anti-fossil fuel energy policy.”
Mastriano is also getting help from an organization whose political action committees are a conduit for billionaire Jeffrey Yass’ campaign cash and spent $13 million unsuccessfully backing a top Mastriano rival while warning that Mastriano could not win over undecided voters. in a general election.
The organization, the Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Businessmen, has already commissioned anti-Shapiro billboards and plans to spend millions against Shapiro, said its president, Matt Brouillette.
His board has not made a decision on whether to back Mastriano, he said.
For now, many Republicans are watching Mastriano’s efforts to patch up relations with the party, raise money and broaden his appeal to swing voters. He has called some party officials and donors. Some have given him advice, others say they haven’t yet.
“I will tell him that he has his message, and he has to raise money to spread his message and counter the false image that Josh Shapiro is putting out,” Reilly said.
Some say they see him focusing more on standard GOP talking points like inflation, and moving away from talking about denying the 2020 election and banning abortion.
Charlie Gerow, a conservative activist who lost to Mastriano in the primary, said he will help Mastriano in any way he can and tell Mastriano to expand his campaign efforts beyond more conservative voters.
“A lot will depend on his ability to put together a campaign necessary to win in November,” Gerow said. “And I think he recognizes that he has to broaden his appeal to win in November.”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.