Will the Jan. 6 hearings turn the tide against Pennsylvania Trump backers Oz and Mastriano?

Just when it seemed like the Pennsylvania races for governor and U.S. Senate had calmed down for the summer after a raucous primary, both races took another surprising turn recently.
A Congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection revealed that a number of GOP senior officials, including former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, admitted they never believed Trump’s assertion that the election was stolen from him.

Their comments raised serious doubts that Trump himself believed the claims.

They said his accusations of election fraud were investigated but no evidence of any wrongdoing was uncovered.

Both U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano have been big backers of Trump and supported his claims that the election was stolen, Mastriano attended the insurrection rally but maintained that he left before things got violent.

It remains to be seen how the revelations will all play out on the campaign trail and if they will have any impact on the races. It seems unlikely that Republicans will come around to realizing they were duped by Trump, but independent voters might be another story. It’s also possible that the dramatic revelations will spur Democratic voters to turn out in greater numbers than anticipated.

The revelations add more drama and intrigue to the races, which already have seen more twists and turns than a Netflix political thriller.

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Oz, a celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon, and David McCormick, former CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund, emerged from the field of seven candidates seeking the Republican nomination as the front runners in the race, despite neither having any experience in politics.

Oz and McCormick proved to be excellent fundraisers, each raising millions of dollars, which they spent mostly on negative ads against each other.

Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, only beat McCormick by 953 votes, leading to an automatic vote recount and various legal challenges as to how ballots were being counted.

However, just when it seemed that the race was going to end up in a bitter court fight, McCormick conceded to Oz and most importantly pledged his support for him. There had been some concern that McCormick’s supporters might not back Oz given all the negative campaigning that went on.

However, those concerns were quelled by McCormick’s comments, with McCormick telling Oz that he had his “full support.”
“It is so important for Pennsylvania, so important that we beat John Fetterman, and so important for the country that we take back the majority in the Senate,” added McCormick, who lost by 951 votes in the recount.

Meanwhile, Fetterman had his issues. After suffering a stroke shortly before the primary, It turned out that Fetterman was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation five years ago. He watched his diet and worked out as his doctors recommended, but he quit taking the medication prescribed for him.

Fetterman’s cardiologist Dr. Ramesh Chandra revealed that he has both atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy, but he expects Fetterman to make a full recovery.

“The prognosis I can give for John’s heart is this: If he takes his medications, eats healthy and exercises, he’ll be fine,” Chandra wrote. “If he does what I’ve told him, and I do believe that he is taking his recovery and his health very seriously this time, he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem.”

Fetterman has been sidelined by his medical problems, but he’s expected to resume campaigning next month.

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While not as controversial as the Senate race, the GOP contest for the governor’s GOP primary did contain some big surprises as Mastriano ran away with the victory winning by 23 points over the second-place finisher Louis Barletta. Mastriano, who was endorsed at the last minute by Trump, beat eight other mandates, including several with extensive credentials and experience.

Mastriano has served as a state Senator since 2019. He represents the 33rd district, which includes all of Adams County and parts of Cumberland, Franklin, and York counties.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro ran unopposed to win the Democratic Party nomination.

Both Shapiro and Fetterman have one thing going in their favor as they had the most votes of any of the candidates in either primary, Shapiro tallied 1,225,117 votes, while Mastriano won the GOP nomination with 591,062 votes.

Fetterman topped three other Democrats with 752,313 votes, while Oz won the GOP primary over six other foes with 420,000 tallies.

But make no mistake the general elections will be challenging for Democrats, with gas prices soaring, the stock market crashing, and inflation roaring out of control.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s poll numbers are tanking, with many voters, fairly or not, blaming him for all the woes.
While this might not be the best year for Democrats, they can look back to the 2018 general election for some inspiration. In the aftermath of Trump’s Pennsylvania win in 2016, Republicans were hoping to defeat Democratic Party incumbents Gov, Tom Wolf, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

To help draw Trump supporters, the GOP ran two Trump-like clones in Lou Barletta for the Senate and Scott Wagner for governor.

However, Wolf and Casey both won easily, beating their GOP opponents by 17 and 13 percentage points, respectively.

Wolf even won heavily-Republican Cumberland County topping Wagner there 52,807-49,496. In 2016, Trump won the county, crushing Hillary Clinton 69,076 to 47,085. Located next to Dauphin County, which includes Harrisburg, Cumberland County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

It will be a key county to watch this fall. To win, both Oz and Mastriano will need strong showings there.

So, will there be a repeat of 2018 or will the GOP candidates emerge victorious like Trump in 2016? As usual, turnout will be critical. Who generates the most passion and highest turnout will likely be the victor.

But with all the surprises so far, don’t be surprised if there aren’t a few more bombshells along the way before November.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Far too many Republicans have lost it

It was a perfect setup for Donald Trump.

After he lost the 2020 presidential race to Joe Biden, Trump set about filing lawsuits across the nation. Trump was asking the courts to overturn the election, claiming it had been stolen from him.

Citing no evidence of his claims, the courts refused to give him the victory he sought.

However, one of the lawsuits was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Williamsport, contending that registered Democratic voters in Pennsylvania were treated more favorably than Republican voters.

The suit was filed in the heartland of Trump Country. Trump had crushed Biden by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin in Lycoming County, where Williamsport is located.

The lawsuit asked the court to prevent the state, Philadelphia and six counties from certifying the results of the election. It also sought to block them from counting mail-in ballots that weren’t witnessed by a Trump campaign representative when they were processed.

Hearing the case was Judge Matthew Brann, who had been a regional Republican Party chairman in Pennsylvania for about a decade before being nominated to the bench in 2013.

In addition, he had been a longtime member of the Federalist Society, which advocates for conservative views among judges, politicians and scholars. It’s one of the most influential legal groups in the country with 70,000 lawyers among its members. The Associated Press reported that 43 of Trump’s 51 appellate court nominees were members of the Federalist Society. Brann is also a longtime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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What more could Trump want? A conservative judge in a conservative county would certainly lead to overturning the 2020 election, right?

Well, Judge Brann would have none of it. In a scalding opinion, he dismissed Trump’s argument.

“This claim, like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together,” wrote Brann. “It is not in the power of this court to violate the Constitution … [T]his Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.”

Trump appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which consisted of three Republicans, including Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed by Trump. He lost there too.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” wrote Bibas, who was joined in his opinion by his fellow Republicans on the bench.

“Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Bibas wrote.

“The Trump Presidential Campaign asserts that Pennsylvania’s 2020 election was unfair. But as lawyer Rudolph Giuliani stressed, the Campaign ‘doesn’t plead fraud.[T]his is not a fraud case,” he continued. Instead, it objects that Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State and some counties restricted poll watchers and let voters fix technical defects in their mail-in ballots. It offers nothing more.

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“Voters, not lawyers, choose the President,” Bibas added. “Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.”So, how is it that despite Trump’s claims being dismissed by Republican judges, many GOP voters and candidates still believe that the presidential election was stolen from him.

In Pennsylvania, most of the seven candidates seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate and nine candidates for governor in next week’s election have supported Trump in one way or another.

While not all the candidates said outright that the election was stolen, Senate candidate Carla Sands, a former Trump foreign ambassador, was clear about her feelings.

“As a matter of fact, we know that the election of 2020 was stolen,” Sands told a debate audience recently..

The AP noted that such a position puts her on the fringe of not only the Senate, which voted 92-7 to certify, but the Senate’s Republican caucus, including the man they hope to replace, retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

In the governor’s race, every GOP candidate has vowed to repeal Pennsylvania’s 2-year-old law that established no-excuse mail-in voting.

Banning drop boxes and expanding Pennsylvania’s voter identification requirement are also being pushed by many Pennsylvania Republican candidates for governor on the campaign trail.

The GOP’s leading candidate for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, maintains the election was skewed by fraud against Trump and proposed a plan in the Legislature to overturn it.

Mastriano said, if elected, he would require voters to “re-register. We’re going to start all over again.”

This all comes despite the fact that prosecutors identified just one case in the 2020 election of in-person voting fraud and zero evidence that drop boxes were a conduit for fraudulent ballots, according to the Associated Press.

A review by the Associated Press found that despite claims about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, there were fewer than 475 instances of potential voter fraud in the six states disputed by Trump — a number that would have made no difference in the election.

So, will Republicans ever come to their senses and admit that were wrong about Trump? Probably not. There’s an old saying that, “A lie repeated many times becomes the truth.” While there’s a lot of doubt about who originated the quote, it’s very accurate and unfortunately describes what’s happening in the U.S. today.

Trump’s lies have become the truth for far too many Republicans and their candidates.

Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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Democrats can win on the issues. But they need to sell them

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The news for Pennsylvania Democrats is bad.

Both Gov. Tom Wolf’s and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have taken another hit in the most Franklin & Marshall College poll.

About one in three (33 percent) respondents to the poll of 785 registered voters said they believed Biden was doing an “excellent” or “good” job as president. The 46th president’s approval rating was similar to former President Donald Trump’s and lower than President Barack Obama’s approval ratings among Pennsylvania voters at the same point during their respective terms.

More, Biden’s approvals ratings declined from 78 percent to 61 percent among Democrats, from 38 percent to 24 percent among independents, from 79 percent to 64 percent among liberals, and from 50 percent to 42 percent among moderates since August.

Wolf fared just as badly, with little more than a third of respondents (38 percent) saying he’s doing an excellent or good job as governor. In July 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a majority of respondents (52 percent) answered the same way, according to the poll. Wolf’s approval ratings were lower among all partisan groups than in July 2020, particularly among Democrats (78 percent) and independents (57 percent), pollsters said.

Zooming out, more than one in three respondents (36 percent) said they were “worse off” financially than they were a year ago, which was about the same as last month’s F&M poll. A quarter of Democrats (26 percent) and a plurality of independents (40 percent) also said they were worse off financially.

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Only one in four (29%) respondents told pollsters they believe the state is “headed in the right direction.” Three-quarters of voters (75%) who said they’re they are “worse off” financially this year than last also say the state is “on the wrong track,” pollsters said. Unsurprisingly, concerns about the economy (21%), including unemployment and personal finances, topped the voters’ list of concerns.

In more bad news, more of the state’s registered voters said they’d support a Republican candidate for Congress, 44 percent Republican versus 39 percent Democrat, pollsters said. That’s a retreat from April 2018, the year Democrats retook control of the U.S. House, when Democrats held a seven point advantage in Congressional preference, 42 percent to 35 percent.

Wolf’s numbers must be especially troubling for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Shapiro has backed most of Wolf’s proposals, so he’ll have to walk a tightrope between supporting the governor and coming up with his proposals.

However, there is some good news out there for Shapiro and other Democrats running for office in 2022. They come from the results of F&M’s October 2021 poll, which focused more on issues.

According to that poll, 47 percent of registered voters identify themselves as Democrats compared to 39 percent who call themselves Republicans.

GOP candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate are eager to tie themselves to former President Donald Trump, but the poll showed that 56 percent of registered voters had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

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Only 39 percent were favorable to Trump, down from a high of 44 percent in June of 2021.

Also, the poll showed only 34 percent of respondents considered themselves Trump Republicans, down from 50 percent in June of 2021. Forty-six percent labeled themselves as traditional Republicans, up from 30 percent in June of 2021.

Meanwhile, the poll showed that 88 percent of respondents said it would be bad for democracy in the U.S. if the events that took place at the capitol on Jan. 6 happened after every election. Only five percent said it would be good.

The poll also showed support for many Democrat proposals. More laws regulating guns were backed by a 54-42 percent margin.

Those not owning guns outnumbered those owning guns 58-42 percent.

The poll showed 36 percent backing legal abortion under any circumstances, 51 percent backing legal abortions under certain circumstances, and 11 percent in favor of making abortion illegal in all circumstances.

Eighty-one percent oppose the recently passed Texas law which allows private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone performing or helping another person get an abortion. Only 14 percent favored the law.

The number of those favoring making abortion legal under any circumstances was the highest percentage since the question was first asked in June of 2019. Back then only 18 percent favored making abortion legal under any circumstance.

Finally, the poll showed that 60 percent of respondents favor legalizing marijuana. This could be a helpful issue for Democrats next fall as Shapiro along with the top party candidates for U.S. Senate, Conor Lamb, and John Fetterman favor legalization while it’s widely opposed by the GOP candidates in those races.

The numbers show strength for legalization in almost every region of the state. Philadelphia led the way with 83 percent in favor. Northeast was next at 70 percent, followed by Southeast and Allegheny at 67 and 56 percent, respectively.

In Central Pennsylvania, there were 49 in favor and 44 against while there were 49 in favor in Southwest Pennsylvania and 48 percent against.

The only region against legalization was the Northwest where 49 percent were against legalization, and 46 percent were for it.
It’s interesting that state Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreation.

Regan, a former U.S. Marshal, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he had seen organized crime and drug cartels get rich from selling unregulated marijuana during his law enforcement career. He said it would be much better if the marijuana could be regulated with the proceeds going to Pennsylvania residents.

Further, Regan said Pennsylvania needed to act with New York and New Jersey’s recent moves to legalize marijuana while other surrounding states of Delaware, Maryland, and Ohio are discussing it. He said that will undoubtedly lead to cross-border sales with Pennsylvanians contributing to the tax base of those states.

It’s estimated that legalizing marijuana could bring in between half a million to a million dollars in new revenue for the state if it’s done soon.

Regan has circulated a bill that would allow marijuana use by adults 21 and older. He intends to include language in it to decriminalize marijuana and seek to expunge the records of those with non-violent low-level cannabis charges.

The only Republican senator to come out for legalizing marijuana, Regan said he will work to rally support from his fellow senators.

Regan told PennLive.com that when he was serving in the House of Representatives and medical marijuana legislation was first proposed, that, “the no’s were more visceral than the no’s are for this. And I think part of that is because of medical marijuana. People have seen there are 600,000 users out there and the world hasn’t imploded. I think that’s important.

“People are starting to realize the polling on this,” Regan added. “It’s 60-plus percent across the state. I think some people who think they maybe would receive negative feedback from their constituents are now maybe thinking they won’t.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.