CHAMBERSBURG, Pa.—The energy was high and Christian worship music loud at Tuesday evening’s election night party for retired Army colonel and state Sen. Doug Mastriano in Chambersburg. The Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor sailed to victory with 44 percent of the primary vote in the race to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe.
His party—featuring a smoke machine, free T-shirts, and former Donald Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis—crystalized the upcoming match-up between Mastriano and Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s current attorney general who ran uncontested in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor.
Moments after clinching the Republican nomination after spending hardly any money on advertising during the primary, Mastriano employed jolting rhetoric, telling the crowd during his election night speech that the future for Pennsylvania under Shapiro would be “an oppressive regime not unlike East Germany” where “freedoms will be snatched away.”
But winning the general election will be no cakewalk for Mastriano in a state that skews more purple than red. An ardent Trump supporter, Mastriano attended the “Save America” march that preceded the storming of the U.S. Capitol last year, and was subpoenaed by the House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6 for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report had initially rated the general election race a tossup but changed the race to “leans Democrat” after Mastriano’s primary victory.
But Mastriano is unbowed by his detractors. He made clear to his supporters Tuesday evening what his day-one priorities would be should he take the governorship in November: Purge critical race theory from K-12 schools, advance pro-life policies, and protect small business owners who were hurt by pandemic-induced government lockdowns, among other Republican talking points.
It was his discussion of culture war issues that made the crowd go wild. “Like the media and the left have lectured us over the past year to follow the science, we’re going to do exactly that and follow the science, so that means only biological females can play in biological female sports,” he told the crowd. “On day one, you can only use the bathroom that your biology and anatomy says.”
There was a lot of talk Tuesday evening of the “Mastriano Army” of supporters that resulted in his primary win, and even more derision of the establishment Republicans—the “ruling class in Harrisburg,” as one speaker put it—who tried and failed to undermine his campaign.
A slate of Republican lawmakers and donors in Pennsylvania spent the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary trying to put a dent in Mastriano’s polling lead by rallying around another GOP candidate. Donors and county chairman had privately encouraged Republican candidates who were trailing in the polls like Bill McSwain to drop out of the race so that Lou Barletta—Mastriano’s closest GOP rival in polls—could have a real shot at winning the nomination.
That didn’t pan out. McSwain refused to drop out, securing just 16 percent of the vote behind second highest vote-getter Barletta (20 percent).
“You refused to vote the way that Harrisburg wants you to vote—very bad boys and girls—you also refused to vote the way that Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham want you to vote,” conservative media personality Steve Turley told Mastriano’s election night audience early Tuesday evening. “The days of the permanent political class are over. And the era of the patriot has just begun.”
The Pennsylvania GOP shocked Republican voters this cycle by declining to endorse candidates in this year’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate primaries, a move that Mastriano praised earlier this week as a boon to the MAGA primary base.
“This is the first time in 44 years that the state party has not endorsed a candidate for governor,” Mastriano told Newsmax on Monday. “And so truly, we have an opportunity in Pennsylvania where the people can make a vote without influence from the state party apparatus. So hats off to the party leadership for actually taking that bold stand.”
Others slammed the state GOP’s decision as an irresponsible one that splintered both fields and boosted controversial candidates like Mastriano and GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, who came under fire this week for a series of bigoted remarks she made in the past. Mastriano and Barnette, who also marched alongside the right-wing Proud Boys group on January 6, had campaigned alongside each other leading up to Tuesday’s primaries.
“No endorsement from the party gave the runway for a multi-candidate split where the most radical actors could have success,” one Republican operative involved in the race for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey said earlier this week of both races. “If Mastriano and Kathy win it’s a sad day.”
Barnette didn’t win, but as of Tuesday night Pennsylvania Republicans still didn’t know who would face Democrat John Fetterman for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat in November. Dr. Mehmet Oz, who had won Trump’s endorsement, and David McCormick were at nearly a dead heat early Wednesday morning, with Oz ahead by fewer than 3,000 votes. Both candidates told their supporters the results wouldn’t be clear on election night. A finish closer than .5 percent will trigger an automatic recount.
Mastriano, meanwhile, knew the results of the gubernatorial election Tuesday evening and took the stage shortly after the Associated Press called the race to deride both his Democratic opponent and the left-wing media bias that he believes unfairly maligned his primary campaign from the start. “The Democrats have a dark vision for Pennsylvania,” he told his supporters.
That sentiment was echoed by the conservative outlets in attendance. “The media, the Democrats, the left are going to fight him tooth and nail,” a reporter from the conservative-leaning media outlet Real America’s Voice said on camera early Tuesday evening. (According to his colleague, Real America’s Voice is a spin-off of One America News that plays to the MAGA base.)
“Party bosses got together and they said, ‘We can’t let this MAGA candidate win,’ and so they tried to get other guys to drop off the ballot,” the reporter continued. “When party bosses tell me what candidate to pick, I know I’m gonna pick the other guy.”