Headed into 2022, Pennsylvania Republicans looked at this year’s gubernatorial race with cautious optimism. Two-term Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf couldn’t run again; polls showed an appetite for change; the prevailing political winds were at the GOP’s back; and a sizable crowd of Republican contenders were gearing up for credible campaigns.
The future appeared bright. That is, until recently, when Pennsylvania Republicans’ cautious optimism turned to “panic.”
Politico reported a couple of weeks ago that GOP leaders in the Keystone State were involved in a “last-ditch, behind-the-scenes effort to stop state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a leading voice in the movement to overturn the 2020 election results, from winning the party nomination for governor in Pennsylvania.” Republicans were convinced that Mastriano’s radicalism was so over the top that he simply couldn’t run a credible race for the commonwealth’s top job.
As of last night, however, we know that the last-ditch, behind-the-scenes effort failed. NBC News reported:
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican who built a large following seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, is the GOP nominee for governor, NBC News projected Tuesday. After 10:30 p.m. ET, Mastriano led his rivals by more than 20 points. He’ll face Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, who ran unopposed, in November.
At this point in the vote tallies, it was not close: Mastriano, who recently received Donald Trump's endorsement, currently leads his next closest primary rival by 24 points.
As the results came in last night, the Republican Governors Association issued a written statement that seemed rather muted, failing to say literally anything complimentary about their party’s nominee. That might be because the RGA couldn’t think of any compelling selling points.
If Mastriano’s name sounds at all familiar, we recently noted on The Rachel Maddow Show that the gubernatorial hopeful appeared at a right-wing event last month where attendees were told, among other things, that a “global satanic blood cult” would soon be exposed and that Adolf Hitler faked his death.
Ordinarily, a major party’s gubernatorial candidate would want nothing to do with such fringe radicalism. Mastriano, however, not only attended the gathering, the candidate was also awarded a sword by QAnon conspiracy theorists at the event.
It was not the only notable right-wing gathering the Pennsylvania Republican was a part of. On the contrary, Mastriano also answered Donald Trump’s call and traveled to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021.
A Washington Post report noted over the weekend, “[Mastriano] has said he attended Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, and videos show him among a crowd moving toward the Capitol as another man removes a bike rack blocking the sidewalk.”
He’s since claimed that he did not play a role in the insurrectionist violence inside the Capitol itself, but as NBC News’ report added, Mastriano’s campaign “paid to bus people to Washington for the rally that preceded the riot, and he was subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 committee this year over his efforts to send alternate electors to Congress.”
But to fully appreciate what makes Mastriano’s candidacy so significant, one must focus not just on his Jan. 6 antics, or his right-wing associations, or his Christian nationalism, or his rejection of Covid mitigation policies. What probably matters most — in Pennsylvania and to a national audience — is the gubernatorial hopeful’s election denialism.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently explained that Mastriano, as a state senator, played a lead role in Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 defeat, which is highly relevant to the near future: “Mastriano didn’t just try to help Trump overturn the election. At the time, he also essentially declared his support for the notion that the popular vote can be treated as non-binding when it comes to the certification of presidential electors.” Greg added:
What must be conveyed clearly and unflinchingly is this: If Mastriano wins the general election, there is almost certainly no chance that a Democratic presidential candidate’s victory in Pennsylvania in 2024 will be certified by the state’s governor. Consider Mastriano’s own words. During Trump’s 2020 effort to steal the election, Mastriano explicitly endorsed the idea that the state legislature has “sole authority” to reappoint new electors, given “mounting evidence” that Joe Biden’s win was “compromised.”
In reality, of course, there was no such “evidence,” and the Democratic ticket’s victory wasn’t “compromised.” But in recent months, Mastriano has nevertheless based much of his candidacy on the Big Lie and his plans to bring his anti-election attitudes to the governor's office.
And have I mentioned that in Pennsylvania, it’s up to the governor to appoint a secretary of state to oversee elections?
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has called Mastriano’s ideas a “danger to democracy.” Election Day is 25 weeks away. Watch this space.