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Toomey Will Support Dr. Oz But Stays Mum on Mastriano
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Toomey Will Support Dr. Oz But Stays Mum on Mastriano

Pennsylvania’s retiring senator had previously declined to endorse in the race for his seat.

Retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is throwing his support behind Trump-endorsed Senate nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, The Dispatch has learned. “I intend to be as helpful as I can be to Dr. Oz,” Toomey said in an interview in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. It’s unclear whether his support will translate into an appearance on the campaign trail. “I don’t know what form it takes, but I’m going to be helpful.”

But Toomey wasn’t so candid with his thoughts on Pennsylvania Republicans’ gubernatorial nominee. In keeping with his months-long neutrality in the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Toomey wouldn’t say whether he plans to support or campaign against 2020 election-denying Republican gubernatorial nominee and state Sen. Doug Mastriano. “I don’t have anything to say about it,” Toomey said Tuesday of Mastriano’s candidacy.

Toomey, who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial last year, has evaded questions about his prospective involvement in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races for months now. 

He declined to make an endorsement in either race ahead of Pennsylvania’s closely watched May 17 primaries, though he briefly broke his silence to warn against firebrand Senate candidate Kathy Barnette amid her 11th-hour polling surge. “There’s a lot that they—voters don’t know about her,” Toomey told Axios of Barnette, whose campaign came under fire for controversial comments about LGBT people and Muslims, among other unflattering revelations. (The Republican Senate primary ended with a recount between Oz and candidate Dave McCormick, though McCormick quickly conceded and endorsed Oz.)

Now, roughly four months ahead of Election Day, Toomey’s decision to endorse Oz comes at a critical moment in a general election race that could determine the fate of the 50-50 Senate: Oz continues to lag behind Democratic challenger and Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in polling and fundraising despite this year’s favorable electoral environment for Republicans. According to Federal Election Commission filings updated June 30, Fetterman has raked in $26 million in total compared to Oz’s $19 million, and heads into the general with $5.5 million on hand compared to Oz’s $1.1 million.

But Fetterman is confronting problems of his own: He’s just now getting back on the campaign trail two months after he suffered a stroke days before his Democratic primary.

The gubernatorial race presents an entirely different challenge. 

Toomey’s refusal to weigh in on his party’s nominee reflects the conundrum many Pennsylvania Republicans face with Mastriano, whose campaign subsidized charter buses to transport “Save America March” attendees to D.C. on January 6, 2021, and who was subpoenaed by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot. In a last ditch effort to derail Mastriano’s polling lead in the days leading up to the May 17 primary, establishment operatives tried and failed to rally the base behind runner-up Republican challenger Lou Barletta, seeing him as a better general election candidate against Democratic nominee and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 

Shapiro has since faced scrutiny from conservatives and even liberal pundits for buying ads ahead of the primary that boosted Mastriano’s conservative credentials, a popular campaign strategy among Democrats this election cycle to prop up far-right candidates whom they consider less viable general election candidates. Though Shapiro is still in the lead, his victory is far from a sure thing—a handful of polls conducted in recent weeks show Mastriano trailing him within a five-point margin.

Stuck with Mastriano as their party’s nominee, some formerly critical Pennsylvania Republicans are now open to supporting him ahead of November. The president and co-founder of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs—a Harrisburg-based conservative organization that ditched its months-long support for GOP candidate Bill McSwain to endorse Barletta the day before the primary—recently indicated in an interview with The Dispatch that the group is now considering endorsing Mastriano.

RNC National Committeeman Andy Reilly, who also participated in talks to consolidate primary support for Barletta, suggested in a recent interview with the Associated Press that Mastriano is the lesser of two evils. “When you play team sports, you learn what being part of a team means,” Reilly said. “Our team voted for him in the primary and, no matter how you slice it, his philosophies are much better to run the state than a career politician like Josh Shapiro.”

Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist Christopher Nicholas said in an interview that Mastriano has shown no indication he’s willing to adopt a general election strategy aimed at courting undecided voters. On the flip side, he said Toomey’s decision to endorse Oz speaks to the Republican Senate candidate’s ability to run to the center ahead of November. 

Part of that strategy entails welcoming Toomey’s involvement in his campaign. “Dr. Oz welcomes and appreciates Sen. Toomey’s support,” Oz communications director Brittany Yanick said in a statement.

Some Pennsylvania-based Republican operatives remain doubtful that Toomey’s involvement in either race will move the needle either way. “I just don’t think that Toomey’s endorsement helps or hurts either candidate,” said Cambria County GOP Chairwoman Jackie Kulback, who maintains that Toomey has checked out of Pennsylvania’s politics since his impeachment vote. “He just hasn’t been involved at all.” 

But on balance, courting support from moderate Republican senators in key battlegrounds seems to be a practical strategy, considering GOP leaders have suggested in recent weeks that candidates ought to curry favor from independents and moderates whenever possible. During last month’s bipartisan negotiations over the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act—a gun bill passed last month with significant Republican support—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell maintained that suburban voters are still the GOP’s biggest target this election cycle. 

“We’ve lost ground in suburban areas. We pretty much own rural and small-town America,” McConnell told reporters when speaking about the bill’s ongoing negotiations. “I hope it will be viewed favorably by voters in the suburbs that we need to regain in order to hopefully be in the majority next year.”

Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.