In the swing state of Pennsylvania, Republican primary voters have nominated a gubernatorial candidate who, shockingly, is even to the right of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is going up against the Democratic nominee, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in the general election. Mastriano is a far-right, ultra-MAGA Christian nationalist and conspiracy theorist who continues to promote the Big Lie and falsely claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump — and a combination of Democrats and establishment Republicans are cringing over the nomination.
Democrats are cringing because Mastriano is so extreme. Republicans are cringing because they fear their party may have blown a chance to have a GOP governor in 2023.
Journalist David Siders takes a close look at Mastriano’s campaign in an article published by Politico on June 10, noting what members of the United States’ two major political parties have been saying about him.
“Mastriano’s victory in the Republican primary for governor last month disgusted Democrats and panicked establishment-minded Republicans,” Siders observes. “To them, he represented a structural threat to democracy, objectionable primarily for promoting Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged. Many of Mastriano’s supporters admire him for that same reason. They too, remain devoted to Trump’s election falsehoods, and they cheered Mastriano’s protests of COVID restrictions in the state.”
Pennsylvania is the ultimate swing state, famously described by Democratic strategist James Carville as Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in between. Carville said that back in the 1980s, when he ran the late Bob Casey, Sr.’s gubernatorial campaign. But it still holds true in 2022
Mastriano obviously isn’t going to get much support in Philly Proper, which is overwhelmingly Democratic; Philly’s last GOP mayor, Bernard Samuel, left office in January 1952. It remains to be seen, however, how well Mastriano will perform against Shapiro in Central Pennsylvania, which is much more GOP-friendly.
Siders quotes Neil Oxman, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic adman, as saying of Mastriano, “He’s a nut bag.” And former Rep. Melissa Hart, a Pennsylvania Republican, described Mastriano as someone who “comes across as a cult guy.”
Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist Daniel Fee told Politico, “(Mastriano) has some rhetoric where you expect people to start holding hands and running towards the cliff. I think he will disqualify himself.”
Interviewed on condition of anonymity, a Politico source described by Siders as a “prominent Republican in Pennsylvania” said of Mastriano, “No one wanted him.”
Another anonymous GOP source described Mastriano as “like Jim Jones in Guyana.”
But the problem with dismissing a far-right Republican extremist as unelectable is that they can surprise you and do much better than expected. In 2016, many pundits wrote off Donald Trump as someone who couldn’t carry Pennsylvania; they were wrong, which is why now-President Joe Biden’s campaign left nothing to chance in the Keystone State in 2020 — and why, unlike Hillary Clinton four years earlier, Biden picked up Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
Biden, however, only won Pennsylvania by about 2%, while Clinton lost it by less than 1% in 2016. Neither deep red nor deep blue, Pennsylvania is the type of state that can go either way, depending on who shows up on Election Day.
Siders observes, “During the primary, he developed a following by railing against COVID mask and vaccine mandates. He said his opposition to abortion rights includes no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. He wants to require voters to reregister.”
Joshua Novotney, a GOP lobbyist and former adviser to Sen. Pat Toomey told Politico that ordinarily, he wouldn’t expect someone as far to the right as Mastriano to win in Pennsylvania. But Novotney believes that Mastriano may have a chance if the race becomes a referendum on Biden and inflation.
“I’d say he’s not running against Josh Shapiro,” Novotney said of Mastriano. “He’s running against Joe Biden, and anything’s possible.”