Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain’s TV ad appears short on subtlety: He emerges from a gloomy tunnel explaining why his experience as a prosecutor makes him the best choice for governor of Pennsylvania.
But a sly edit gives away a subtle balance the West Chester Republican is trying to strike with voters in a crowded primary.
One version of McSwain’s ad airing on Fox News shows him grinning in a picture with former President Donald Trump. Another version airs on broadcast stations without the Trump picture.
Such is the tricky “Trump primary” that Republican candidates are navigating this year.
Consider Dave White’s trip to the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Florida last weekend, where he told Fox News he was excited to meet with Trump and seek his support.
Instead, the Delaware County businessman came away with an endorsement from ... Richard Grenell, a Trump administration official. If you need to Google that name, Clout understands.
Still, White was fired up enough last Friday to tweet “ENDORSEMENT” — with a picture of Grenell in the Oval Office with Trump, paired with a picture of White wearing a hard hat. White later deleted that tweet, replacing it Tuesday with a picture of just him and Grenell.
In a Trump primary, getting ahead of yourself can get your head handed to you.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County has crossed that minefield. He told the Associated Press last May — just two days after former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Trump pal, entered the Republican primary — that Trump asked him to run for governor and promised to campaign for him.
A Trump spokesperson pushed back fast and hard on Twitter that no endorsements or commitments had been made.
Mastriano, who did not respond to Clout’s hails, has scheduled a March 15 campaign rally with Trump’s current spokesperson, Liz Harrington, as keynote speaker.
Harrington did not respond when asked about Trump’s intentions in the primary.
Maybe coy is the smart play? Charlie Gerow, who is also running for governor, told Clout he greeted Trump backstage before his CPAC speech but did not ask for an endorsement, because “that wasn’t my purpose for being at CPAC.”
Barletta was Trump’s pick for what became a failed 2018 Senate bid. A Barletta spokesperson said they still have “a great relationship,” but “it’s unclear if Trump will actually get involved” in the race.
Barletta, a former mayor of Hazleton, has added former Trump administration and campaign players to his team, as have many of his competitors.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman of Centre County campaigned in Pittsburgh on Monday with his consultant, former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, a practitioner of “alternative facts.”
Conway touted Corman’s chances for a Trump endorsement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describing his approach as “smart and strategic about it, not cagey and squirrelly.”
Ad watch: Burning cop car edition
In McSwain’s ad, a collaborative effort with the very deep pockets at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, he declares: “I put rioters and looters in jail who torched police cars” — a reference to the 2020 civil unrest in Philadelphia after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
But his campaign and the PAC footing the bill didn’t use images of local damaged police cars. Instead, the ad shows a Pittsburgh TV station’s aerial footage of a police car burning in that city in 2020.
At least they got the correct state. And country.
The 1776 Project, a political action committee backing Barletta, says McSwain promised law and order but only prosecuted four people from the 2020 protests. The PAC makes this point using a photograph of a Toronto police car set on fire during protests during the G20 meeting in Canada in 2020.
McSwain’s camp declined to comment on its ad or the 1776 Project’s. The Georgia-based political consultants running the 1776 Project did not respond to requests for comment.
Did Shapiro try to push Sims out of race?
Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general and only established Democrat running for governor, came to Philly’s “Gayborhood” Thursday to campaign with LGBTQ activists from across the state, along with his selected running mate, State Rep. Austin Davis of Allegheny County.
Clout noted to Shapiro his event happened at the geographic and ideological center of the district represented by State Rep. Brian Sims, who is also running in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Sims, who is not seeking a sixth term, was the first openly gay person elected to the House.
Shapiro stressed that Davis is endorsed by the state party and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. He called for party unity but repeatedly dodged when asked if he had asked Sims to get out of the race.
After the event, a Sims spokesperson said Shapiro has pushed for Sims to drop his candidacy.
Sims, who had been on a Shapiro short list of potential running mates, has since said Democrats “are lucky to have a historically diverse field” in the primary. Davis is Black. A third candidate, Ray Sosa of Montgomery County, is Latino.
Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.