“The solid base – Mastriano is playing it,” said Carl Fogliani, a Republican strategist based in Pittsburgh. “He has an audience among the main activists, and he’s trying to grow it. “
A little-known state senator from central Pennsylvania until last year, Mastriano began building an audience among grassroots conservative activists even before the November election for his outspoken criticism of the coronavirus restrictions.
He was “ahead of the curve” of other politicians on the issue, said Lowman Henry, chairman of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, which is hosting a rally of conservative activists in the state.
After the election, Henry said: “As in his usual manner, he mounted the horse and also led the charge on the issue of voter fraud, which I think added to his luster with the base. Trump, which is very important in Pennsylvania. “
In the months following the elections. Mastriano has carved out a national profile for himself, starting with his role in organizing a post-election audience turned into a show in Gettysburg starring Giuliani and a Trump appeal. And since then, his fingerprints have been all over the efforts of Trump and his allies to undermine the November election results. He was in Washington on January 6, the day of the U.S. Capitol Riot. He recently traveled to Arizona to observe the scrutiny of the ballot. And he lobbied for a review of ballots elsewhere, including in Fulton County, a rural county that Trump easily won near the Mastriano district.
Al Schmidt, a Republican election commissioner in Philadelphia who was pilloried by Trump and his supporters for refusing to capitulate to baseless allegations of electoral fraud, recalled that Mastriano had been “quite vocal” during the presidential campaign but He especially struck him as a simple “state senator”. from another location in Pennsylvania.
He said: “It’s actually difficult to explain what’s going on because it’s so completely out of touch with reality, and the election was free and fair and not even close.”
Masstriano’s efforts have not produced evidence of widespread electoral fraud, but they have given him leverage in a likely gubernatorial bid. He met Trump at Trump Tower in New York in May, and CNN is now stalking him at events in his home state. Matriano said Trump himself had encouraged him to run for governor.
“A year ago, would anyone have known the name of Matriano within 50 miles of his district?” Said David Becker, executive director of the non-partisan organization Center for Election Innovation & Research, lamenting what it called “a large segment of con artists who seek to profit” from baseless accusations of electoral fraud. “And now he can probably fundraise nationwide from his name, his ties to Trump.”
It is possible that Mastriano is overdoing his connection with Trump, making some in the Trump world worse. After Mastriano said in a radio interview last month that the former president asked him to run for governor Jason Miller, a Trump adviser, said on twitter that Trump “has yet to make any endorsement or commitment in this race.”
Yet when Mastriano and two other Pennsylvania lawmakers later visited Arizona, Trump announced the “great patriots” led by Mastriano. That kind of statement – when reused on a direct mail – could be prominent in a Republican primary in Pennsylvania next year.
Mastriano, who did not respond to a request for comment, said he is still considering running for governor, but is widely expected to do so. The Republican primary is likely to be crowded, including former Rep. Lou Barletta and, potentially, Rep. Dan Meuser and former US lawyer Bill McSwain, among others.
“I think he probably has a pretty low cap in terms of what percentage of the primary electorate he can go for, which is probably what he’s trying to increase now in terms of going to Arizona and all, in terms of being the most Trumpi of the Trumpers, ”said Joshua Novotney, a Republican lobbyist and former adviser to Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Given his relatively low profile, even after his ballot-checking crusade, Novotney said, “I don’t think he will impress too many donors.”
He said: “A lot of Trump supporters are trying to go ahead and win races … even though they think things may have been stolen.”
Still, the fact that Masstriano is even in the mix is a far from 2018, when he couldn’t even get out of a Congressional primary, finishing fourth in the race for an open seat in a solidly Republican district in southern Pennsylvania.
Today, the retired army colonel is one of the most prominent examples of a class of politicians who are building their careers from doubt cast over the November election results, both benefiting and reinforcing the belief in Trump’s lie – a position widely held among Republicans voters – that the election was rigged.
Across the country, several Republicans who backed Trump’s election fraud allegations are running for secretary of state. Earlier this week, Wren Williams, an attorney who helped represent Trump in recounts in Wisconsin, overthrew a longtime Republican in a State House primary in Virginia.
“[Mastriano] has an absolutely good idea that we still don’t have a full account of what happened in the 2020 election, ”said Bruce Marks, a Republican lawyer who worked for the Trump campaign and who met Mastriano last month. “I think he’s absolutely on the right track.
Marks, a former Pennsylvania lawmaker who sat as a state senator only after a court in 1994 determined that widespread electoral fraud resulted in the apparent victory of his Democratic opponent, said he had met with Mastriano largely to share the details of this affair with him – a rallying cry for Republicans who insist the presidential election can still be called off.
Shortly after the meeting, Masstriano raised the case at a rally in Harrisburg.
“I wish it was like 1994,” Mastriano said, suggesting that the media that year had done a “fantastic job” in finding the fraud. In the same speech, Mastriano compared the November elections unfavorably to the elections held in “war-torn Kosovo”, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.