DeMarco, the leader of one of the largest county parties in the state and the chairman of the Southwest Caucus, confirmed that he was “participating in these discussions”. Tuesday he tweeted a poll showing Mastriano battling presumptive Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, and announced that he was personally putting his weight behind one of Mastriano’s main opponents, businessman Dave White, who he says is “of his own will”.
“There are so many things that concern me about this,” DeMarco told POLITICO, emphasizing that he was not speaking on behalf of the group. “We are in a year where all the evidence points to a red tsunami. And it looks like here in Pennsylvania, due to the number of people in the race and its smaller but consistent support base, we might name the only Republican who would be ineligible in November.
A spokesperson for Mastriano did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The prospect that Mastriano — who was on Capitol Hill during the Jan. 6 uprising — could lead the GOP ticket has increasingly alarmed Republicans, both in Pennsylvania and nationally. (Mastriano said he left before the riot). They fear the party could hurt its chances in November by picking a polarizing candidate with limited appeal, who could also be a drag on the Republican ticket in what is otherwise shaping up to be a favorable election year.
Reilly spoke with gubernatorial campaigns about conducting a poll to determine who is in second place behind Mastriano and asked if the candidates would unite behind that person, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
In a statement to POLITICO, Reilly said, “As a national committee member, I have spoken regularly with almost every gubernatorial campaign over the past few years. [three] month. Last week, when the presumptive [Democratic] candidate, Josh Shapiro, and the state’s Democratic Party used campaign resources to support Doug Mastriano’s bid for the Republican primary, it raised concerns among the campaigns. These concerns have led to cross-campaign discussions in which I have occasionally been involved.
Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, began airing a TV ad last week that could have been cut by Mastriano himself, except for the tagline at the very end. The spot throws red meat at MAGA primary voters, while highlighting positions that Democrats hope will turn voters away from the general election. It was a sign that Democrats viewed Mastriano as the weakest potential opponent in the fall.
Reilly added that since “the state party voted not to endorse a candidate, any decision a campaign makes to endorse another candidate, suspend their campaign, or stay in the running is entirely that campaign’s decision.”
It’s unclear whether the Republicans’ attempts to rally behind someone other than Mastriano will be successful. Some party members expressed skepticism that it would work, dismissing the effort as too little, too late. But others said it was possible it could lead to a candidate or two dropping out, potentially making it easier to defeat Mastriano.
“Bill McSwain is staying in the game,” said Rachel Tripp, McSwain’s communications director. “He is fully committed to continuing his full list of campaign activities and looks forward to victory on Tuesday.”
Mastriano has been the favorite in recent polls.
Asked if Republicans are worried because of questions about Mastriano’s eligibility, Josh Novotney, former campaign finance director for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), said, “You can quote me on this one: Hell, yeah.”
“Everyone I know is worried about their eligibility,” continued Novotney, who has not been involved in the union talks behind a candidate. “I think if Josh Shapiro had to wave a wand and choose his opponent, he would definitely choose Mastriano.”
Mastriano himself has been mostly off the air. So far, Republicans have spent a total of $22 million on television and radio advertising for the gubernatorial race, according to data from ad tracking firm AdImpact. Almost half of that money was spent by former US Attorney Bill McSwain’s campaign and a group that supports him, the Commonwealth Leaders Fund.
Mastriano, however, is less than $300,000 of that.
The Republican Governors Association also did not include Pennsylvania in its announcement of early media bookings to major battlefields. The committee has earmarked airtime for the snap general elections in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin in March — the first open seat held by the GOP and the last four all with Democratic incumbents — and has already spent defending Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who faces an overriding challenge.
“I think there is a significant level of concern that Mastriano, of all the primary candidates, is having the toughest time in the general, just because of the level of his conservative views and policies,” said Mike Conallen, a Pennsylvania-based GOP strategist and former chief of staff for Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). “There was a general consensus that while he was the most likely to win the primary, he was going to have the toughest times overall.”
In contrast, Shapiro had a downhill path to the Democratic nomination. He did not face any primary opposition and amassed a formidable warchest for the general election in the eternal swing state.
Meanwhile, the crowded and messy GOP contest has at times been overshadowed by the party’s open Senate primary. Along with Mastriano, White and McSwain, a handful of other Republicans are among the top candidates vying for the nomination, including former Rep. Lou Barletta.
Jake Corman, the chairman of the Pro Tempore state senate who feuded with Mastriano for control of a 2020 election review, asked to step down from the race in mid-April. But he abruptly reversed course the same day after saying he spoke to Trump, who encouraged him to stay in the race.
Public polls have been infrequent, but a Fox News survey released Tuesday night showed Mastriano had a big lead in a crowded field. The poll put him at 29% – a gain of 11 points from the outlet’s March poll – compared to 17% for Barletta, 13% for McSwain and 11% for White. All other candidates were single digits.
In the days leading up to Trump’s rally last week for Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, some state Republicans hoped the former president would finally get involved in the gubernatorial race — and back a candidate other than Mastriano. . When that didn’t happen Friday night, a Republican operative working on the gubernatorial election described “alarm bells are ringing” among the state’s GOP.
“I think people wanted [Mastriano’s rise] away for a long time and it became real. Everyone was hoping that last week at the rally Trump would intervene and he didn’t,” the agent said. “I got text messages from people waiting to see what he would say and he didn’t mention the governor’s race at all. They said it was a step below endorsing Mastriano because in saying nothing, you say a lot.
State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, who endorsed White, raised concerns about the gubernatorial race in a Facebook post on Monday.
“The goal is not to win the primary. Winning the primary and losing the overall because the candidate is unable to get voters in the middle is not a victory. We need a candidate who can win in November,” Ward wrote.
Mastriano is among the most prominent far-right candidates running in state elections this year. Besides his well-documented election denial, he has ties to QAnon conspiracy theorists, recently appearing at an event titled “Patriots Rise Up for God and Country.”
When Mastriano was asked about appearing on a podcast for a local “center-right” outlet, he launched a tirade about the report in The Philadelphia Inquirer and attacked the podcast hosts.
“’You were at a conference at Gettysburg with people I don’t like politically.’ Really? How stupid,” he said, demanding that the hosts prove the conference had a QAnon connection. He abruptly ended his interview after being questioned about his claims that the election was stolen.
Still, Mastriano’s stances won him a sizable base of support among a fiery group of Republican voters. And some wonder if he can be dislodged from the top of the pitch.
Republicans are largely on the offensive this cycle in gubernatorial races, with Democrats defending battleground states including Pennsylvania, Kansas, Nevada, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Shapiro’s announcement appearing to boost Mastriano is an echo of Trump’s own rise in the Republican Party in 2016, when leading Democrats cheered the prospect of Trump’s candidacy, believing he was the easiest person to get into. beat in the general election.
“If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for,” the ad reads, before adding a surefire caveat of “is this what we want in Pennsylvania?”
“We had Josh Shapiro posting an ad about me condemning me for looking a lot like Trump. Thank you very much for this ad. It’s going to be a huge red wave in November,” Mastriano told Steve Bannon on his show Monday.
“The Josh Shapiro ad was the best pro-Mastriano ad of the campaign,” Bannon replied.
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.