(WHTM) — Pennsylvania Republicans are voicing concern, and are reportedly working to stop, leading gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano from winning the May 17 primary.
As reported in a previous article by Associated Press, Mastriano has supported unsubstantiated claims that widespread fraud marred the 2020 election and that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was responsible for thousands of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Mastriano has also been accused of belittling efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus and spreading conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine.
That has long made Republican Party officials and movement conservatives uncomfortable about Mastriano’s prospects in a fall general election matchup.
According to AP, on Monday, the state Senate’s Republican floor leader, Kim Ward, endorsed rival candidate Dave White and singled out Mastriano as unable to attract the moderate voters necessary to win a general election in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, Mastriano held a rally in Erie and is now crisscrossing the state in the final week of the election.
“Here I am in Erie, traditionally Democrat, and I had a huge crowd on a work night. It was a Tuesday night last night,” Mastriano said when he spoke with abc27’s Dennis Owens. “Not everyone in that room was Republican, not everyone in there identifies with my beliefs, but they see that I stand for freedom.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Wednesday that there is a push to get several of the other candidates out of the race and have them endorse one who would give a stronger challenge to Mastriano.
The problem? Many Republicans, like Sen. Dan Laughlin (Erie), feel Mastriano can win the primary but would then get trounced by the unopposed Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro in the fall.
Laughlin says the Shapiro campaign did a so-called attack ad against Mastriano designed to make the Republican appealing to primary voters. The not-so-hidden message of that ad is that Shapiro wants to face Mastriano.
“I think that should tell all of your viewers just how bad the poll numbers are,” Laughlin said.
Owens spoke with Mastriano Wednesday morning about the reported efforts to diminish his candidacy.
“It helps us,” said Mastriano. “In the end, it confirms so many people’s suspicions that there is a political establishment that tries to pick winners and losers. Sadly in the Republican establishment, they tend to pick losers.”
Republicans have been shut out of the governor’s office since 2014, and some worry that Mastriano is too toxic to win the moderate Republican voters and swing voters in the heavily populated suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh while endangering down-ballot GOP candidates with a lackluster top-of-the-ticket turnout.
“So many people have downplayed our movement and ridiculed it and thought it wasn’t possible. The old chestnuts: can he raise money, can he win Philadelphia? Now they’re like, ‘Oh crap he’s going to win this primary.’ I think it’s going to be pretty resounding in a race of nine,” Mastriano said in his conversation with Owens.
In recent days, Democrats launched digital ads and flyers attacking Mastriano, while Shapiro is airing a statewide TV ad portraying Mastriano as extreme because of his support for a ban on abortion, vow to repeal mail-in voting, and conspiracy-driven attempts to investigate the 2020 election.
Their closing line is if Mastriano wins, “it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.”
“Doug Mastriano will drag our commonwealth backward with an extreme agenda; he belongs nowhere near the governorship,” Shapiro’s campaign said in a statement.
When asked if he thinks he can beat Shapiro in the fall, Mastriano said, “we’re gonna beat him so bad. Smoke him like a bad cigar.”
In a recently published Pennsylvania Governor race primary poll, Mastriano finished with a 10-point lead over candidate Lou Barletta. Mastriano led the newly-released Trafalgar Poll with 27.6%, followed by Barletta at 17.6%.
Laughlin wishes that the crowded Republican field had consolidated months ago. “People that are polling at 1 or 2 or 3% are going to play a role in having Josh Shapiro probably win the governor’s race, and I’m disappointed by that,” Laughlin said.
The primary general election in Pennsylvania is on May 17. Mastriano is one of nine candidates running for the open governor’s seat once Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s term is up. To see who else will be on the ballot on May 17, click here.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.