State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Wednesday, 5/12/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)
A Republican state senator from central Pennsylvania who trafficked in baseless claims of election fraud appeared on course to win the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday night, setting up a fall general election campaign that will be rife with stark contrasts.
Unofficial returns showed state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who came into Election Day with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, leading the crowded field with 42 percent of the vote. The Associated Press called the race for Mastriano shortly before 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
Former U.S Rep. Lou Barletta, of Hazleton, finished second with 23.01 percent of the vote, unofficial tallies showed. Former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain, appointed to the role by Trump, finished third with 15.1 percent, while former Delaware County Councilmember David White finished fourth with 7.85 percent of the vote.
An undercard made up of Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre; former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, of Allegheny County; Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, Republican consultant Charlie Gerow,, and Poconos physician Nche Zama, rounded out the GOP primary field.
Mastriano will face Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was running without opposition in Tuesday’s intra-party contests. Shapiro, a former Montgomery County commissioner and state lawmaker, was benched on Election Day after announcing he’d tested positive for COVID-19.
Tuesday’s result capped a bizarre and chaotic primary campaign that saw establishment Republicans mount an 11th-hour push to stop Mastriano, who has ardently courted the Trump base, because they believed him too extreme to win election statewide in the fall.
It ended up being too little, too late. Both were polling at the back of the primary pack, rendering their withdrawals effectively symbolic gestures.
Mastriano, 58, a retired U.S Army colonel, leaped to statewide prominence in 2020, leading protests against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic management policies. In the days after the November 2020 election, he openly questioned the legitimacy of the result.
He bused supporters to the Jan. 6, 2021 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, where pro-Trump extremists attempted to disrupt the certification of the election results. Mastriano was photographed at the Capitol and has denied entering the building, though video footage has shown him closer to the building than he has claimed. He since has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the insurrection.
Ardently conservative, Mastriano supports school choice and gun rights. He opposes abortion rights, sponsoring a bill that would ban the procedure at as early as six weeks, which is before most people know they are pregnant. He also has said he would not support exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of a pregnant person.
Mastriano made headlines in the race’s closing days after he campaigned for an event promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. He is an icon to Christian nationalists, but has said he does not identify as a Christian nationalist.
“Is this a term you fabricated? What does it mean and where have I indicated that I am a Christian Nationalist?” he told the New Yorker last year.
At a news conference last week, Barletta said he planned to support whomever emerged as the GOP nominee, saying a victory over Shapiro in November had to be the ultimate goal.
During a Tuesday appearance on Philadelphia radio host Chris Stigall’s show, Trump said he passed on endorsing Barletta because of his double-digit loss to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in 2018.
“I know Lou, I like Lou. The problem is he ran a very bad race the last time. He was a little missing in action. It wasn’t rigged or stolen, he just didn’t run a good race, and he got beaten pretty badly,” he said.
Trump praised Mastriano, saying he “has a very big base,” and adding that he’d been “very loyal on election integrity.”
“When I hear Shapiro saying he’s dying to run against Mastriano, that’s just misinformation. The last person he [Shapiro] wants to run against is Mastriano,” Trump said.
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