HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump endorsed Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial primary on Saturday, siding with a far-right candidate who was outside the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection of the January 6 and has worked tenaciously to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Mastriano was already leading a packed field of contenders despite running against the party establishment, and the former president’s endorsement puts him in an even stronger position heading into Tuesday’s primary.
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But party leaders increasingly fear that Mastriano, a state senator and retired US Army colonel, is too extreme to beat Democrat Josh Shapiro in the November general election and could drag down other Republicans running for office. the ground state.
That includes a highly competitive US Senate primary contest in which Trump is trying to lead his endorsed candidate, heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Mehmet Oz, to victory against a rival Mastriano is doing. campaign, which could become an awkward situation. .
Mastriano got on Trump’s radar by helping spread unsubstantiated claims by the former president and his allies that Democrats fraudulently stole the 2020 election for Joe Biden, something Trump seized on in his statement of endorsement.
“There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for electoral integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” Trump wrote. “He has revealed the cheating, corruption and outright theft of the 2020 presidential election, and he will do something about it.”
Trump called Mastriano “a fighter like few others, and he has been with me from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him.”
In addition to campaigning with key figures in Trump’s circle who have spread lies about the last election, Mastriano has also floated a plan to allow state lawmakers to scrap the election result and make their own decision on which candidate should get the vote. state elections.
As a result, he was subpoenaed by the US House committee investigating the riots on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.
If elected, Mastriano has said he would take the extraordinary step of requiring voters to “re-register” to vote. “We’re going to start all over again,” he said during a debate last month.
Such a move is prohibited by the National Voter Registration Act and is likely to meet with significant protections under the constitution and federal, and possibly state, law, constitutional law scholars say.
Trump was torn by the endorsement decision in the gubernatorial race.
Some allies desperately urged him to stay out of the race or back a Mastriano rival, such as Lou Barletta, a former congressman who was the party’s 2018 Trump-backed US Senate candidate.
With Mastriano leading the nine-person primary field, party officials and conservative activists believed the votes for the most eligible establishment candidates are too fragmented to prevent their consolidation by far-right voters.
On Friday, Mastriano told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” webcast that the Republican establishment “is panicking, I mean literally getting wet” at the prospect of him being the nominee.
At a campaign event Saturday in suburban Philadelphia, Mastriano told the crowd that no one could overtake him, even with the help of the party.
“With 45 coming out with their endorsement, they’re done, done,” Mastriano said, using a nickname for Trump, the 45th president. Mastriano claimed he leads a “movement” that the left and the “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only, they are “terrified”.
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Mastriano has largely avoided speaking to independent news organizations, including The Associated Press, and has excluded reporters from his campaign events, including the one on Saturday, which was broadcast live.
Barletta has spent the last few days racking up endorsements from the establishment, including from members of Congress. He has avoided criticizing Mastriano for his name, apart from trying to show that he is the most eligible candidate in the primaries.
On Saturday, he maintained that he could still beat Mastriano.
“I look forward to an endorsement from President Trump on Wednesday morning,” Barletta wrote.
Republicans are particularly concerned that Mastriano is too toxic to win moderate voters in the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in November. Critics fear it will jeopardize lower-voting Republican candidates with a lackluster turnout at the top of the ticket.
Republicans have been barred from the governor’s office in Pennsylvania since 2014 under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is prevented by term limits from running again.
Trump’s main focus in Pennsylvania has been the Senate primary, where his endorsed candidate, celebrated heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, is seen as vulnerable.
In many cases, grassroots Republican voters, conservative activists and hardline Trump supporters have refused to endorse Oz just because Trump does.
Some allies had tried to convince the former president that endorsing Mastriano would hurt Oz because Mastriano has closely aligned himself and campaigned with one of Oz’s rivals, Kathy Barnette.
But since Trump worries about Oz’s chances, backing Mastriano is seen as a means of protecting his ego, providing a likely victory if Oz ends up losing.
On Saturday, Barnette spoke at Mastriano’s campaign event. She and Mastriano have endorsed each other and have campaigned together on numerous occasions.
“It almost seems like the former president is starting to believe that Barnette is going to win,” said Vince Galko, a Pennsylvania-based Republican campaign strategist.
Mastriano, elected to the state Senate three years ago, first gained a following by leading anti-shutdown rallies during the early months of the pandemic, then became one of Trump’s most dedicated supporters during the 2020 campaign.
In online “fireside chats” with supporters after the election, he bragged about speaking to Trump at least 15 times while working with Trump to try to overturn the election result. He later arranged bus trips to the US Capitol for Trump’s January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, where he was seen in footage with his wife walking through open barricades set up by the Capitol Police.
Last May, he claimed on a radio show that Trump had “asked” me to run for governor.
In the weeks afterward, he attempted to launch an Arizona-style partisan “audit” of the 2020 election, only to be stripped of his committee chairmanship by state Senate Republican leaders in a dispute over funding and hiring of contractors. .
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