In the race for Pennsylvania governor, one of the country’s most important midterm elections, Trump-backed Republican Doug Mastriano trails his Democratic opponent in fundraising, polls, and has yet to air advertisements.
The state lawmaker and retired Army colonel is such a divisive figure that prominent members of his own party have backed Democratic challenger Josh Shapiro, citing Mastriano’s extremist views.
With just over two months until the general election on Nov. 8, Mastriano stands out as an example of why the upcoming election may not produce as many victories as Republicans had hoped for going into the 2022 cycle.
In some of the most important races in November, Republican voters across the country have nominated a number of candidates who lack political experience and frequently hold far-right views that may not appeal to moderate voters.
However, the stakes are especially high in Pennsylvania, a political battleground state that influences congressional and presidential elections.
The winner of the open governor’s race will select the state’s top elections official, who will oversee the state’s presidential election in 2024, and will also have the authority to block or advance Republican-led state legislature efforts to severely restrict abortions.
Unlike some other candidates in competitive races, Mastriano has shown little interest in tempering his views in order to court Pennsylvania’s critical moderate voters.
He has pledged to take the extraordinary step of requiring people to “re-register” to vote — a move that scholars say violates federal law — and to decertify certain voting machines. He was a supporter of former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election and was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
However, a growing number of Republicans, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week, have publicly condemned Mastriano’s candidacy and endorsed Shapiro, the state’s attorney general.
According to a source familiar with the event, Schultz held a fundraiser for the Democrat two days later at a Philadelphia restaurant attended by several prominent Republican donors.
Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment, despite the fact that he previously barred all news media from his campaign events and typically grants interviews only to outlets that share his far-right politics.
One of his supporters, voter Dan Sardella, defended the candidate despite saying he wished Mastriano would avoid the election denials and abortion issues.
According to Mastriano’s most recent campaign finance report, he had less than $400,000 in cash on hand as of June. So far, the Republican Governors Association has withheld financial support.
Shapiro, on the other hand, is flush with cash, which he has used to fund television ads portraying Mastriano as being too extreme for Pennsylvania. The Democrat campaign announced a $16.9 million initial reservation on TV ads that will begin next week, bringing its total TV spending to $35 million.
Some August polls showed Shapiro with a double-digit lead, but a survey conducted by Emerson College on August 22-23 showed the Democrat with a three-point lead.
Six Republican county chairs in the state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed concern about Mastriano’s campaign.
Some thought he hadn’t responded adequately to a Reuters report last week that Mastriano wore a Confederate uniform in a 2013-2014 faculty photo at the Army War College, where he was a teacher at the time.
Displays of Confederate symbols may be considered insensitive by those who see them as painful reminders of racial oppression and the Civil War, in which Confederate states fought to keep Black people enslaved.
Mastriano made his first public comment on the photo on Tuesday, saying, “I think it’s important to understand the past in order to have a better future and also to not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Mastriano attacked Shapiro during a recent lunchtime speech in the Philadelphia suburb of Aston for his crime-fighting record as well as his support for COVID-19 lockdowns and transgender athletes.
Dave White, a supporter and former rival in the Republican primary, said Pennsylvania voters were just starting to pay attention to the governor’s race. He noted that despite Mastriano’s money disadvantage, some polls showed a close contest.