Election 2022

Mastriano might actually beat Shapiro in Pa. governor race, observers say

Democrats said they wanted the Trump-endorsed candidate to win. Now that he has, will it backfire?

Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano at his primary election night party

Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano at his primary election night party

Sam Dunklau / WITF

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Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, now the official Democratic nominee to be the next governor of Pennsylvania, was running unopposed in the primary. He’s been waiting the whole race to know his Republican opponent.

After GOP primary voters chose state Sen. Doug Mastriano on Tuesday, Shapiro and his team know it’ll be the opponent they’ve indicated they want to face. What’s unclear is whether their gambit will work.

Mastriano’s apparent primary win caps a meteoric rise since he was first elected in 2019, much of it due to the fallout from the 2020 election. The South Central Pa. legislator became one of the leading voices alleging massive election fraud. He was name-dropped by Donald Trump on Twitter and helped to organize bus trips to the Capitol on Jan. 6. On Saturday, Mastriano officially won Trump’s endorsement for Pa. governor

To Shapiro and state Democrats — and the Republican machine that attempted a hail mary to prevent Mastriano from taking the GOP nomination — this track record will turn off swing voters and help the Dems retain the Governor’s seat.

Others aren’t so sure. “​​I’m not convinced that his [Mastriano’s] brand of politics is enough to turn off the majority of the general electorate,” said Mustafa Rashed of Bellevue Strategies, a Pennsylvania political consulting firm.

The Shapiro-Mastriano contest will be among the most watched in the nation, seen as a test of Trump’s grasp on the modern Republican party, and a bellwether for a coalition that could put the former president in a winnable position two years from now.

It also puts a lot on the line for Pennsylvanians, as the two candidates have vastly differing opinions on reproductive rights and “electoral reform.”

During the primary, Shapiro’s campaign paid for an ad spotlighting Mastriano, sharing views like the retired colonel’s support for complete abortion bans and his advocacy for an audit of the 2020 election. The ad paints a pretty clear picture, stating, “If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.”

That tactic has been unsuccessful for several past Democratic candidates who believed they could wield anti-Trump sentiment to their benefit, including Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Terry McAuliffe’s losing 2021 campaign to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Rashed, the political consultant, said he expects a hard fight that will not come cheap. “You take a look at how $100 million was spent in Georgia in 2020,” he said, “and you should expect that that same amount of money be spent in Pennsylvania.”

There are more registered Democrats in the commonwealth than Republicans — mostly clustered in the two big cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — but recent reports show the statewide margin may be narrowing.

That means a lot of ads, Rashed predicted, including “shady advertising that’s hard to identify who’s paying for it.”

It also means both parties will need to chase after the same voters, Rashed said. “The ever quintessential search for that independent moderate voter is going to be front and center.”

Lieutenant governor candidates are much more similar

Shapiro will be campaigning this fall with the lieutenant governor candidate he endorsed. Austin Davis successfully used that boost to win the Democratic primary, taking a comfortable lead against state Rep. Brian Sims and business owner Ray Sosa.

Davis was elected as state representative for the 35th District in Allegheny County in 2018, after steady involvement in politics that stretches back to his high school years.

On the Republican side of the lieutenant governor primary, Carrie Lewis DelRosso surged to a sizable lead in a nine-person pool of candidates, more than 10 points ahead of Rick Saccone in second place. DelRosso, a state representative for the 33rd legislative District, upset the Pa. House minority leader in 2020 and looks to be the upsetter again; her candidacy didn’t generate the same media attention as some of her opponents.

Davis versus DelRosso would be a showdown between two Allegheny County representatives, as Davis serves the nearby 35th District.

DelRosso is much more of an establishment Republican than Mastriano. She received Commonwealth Partners’ endorsement, the same Republican organization that made a last-ditch attempt to put the kibosh on Mastriano’s campaign.

DelRosso also raised more money than Mastriano in the primary’s final month, largely due to a $1.5 million donation from the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund. Other donations from fellow representatives like Mike Armanini and the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Political League hint at a base of support that could translate to a widely supported campaign.

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