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Doug Mastriano has won the GOP primary for Pa. governor after a campaign fueled by election lies

Mastriano prevailed despite a frantic 11th-hour push by some Pennsylvania GOP insiders to rally behind an alternative.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano celebrates his victory in the Republican primary for governor on Tuesday in Chambersburg.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano celebrates his victory in the Republican primary for governor on Tuesday in Chambersburg.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Doug Mastriano, a far-right state senator and leading voice in Pennsylvania’s election denial movement who drew national attention for his efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat, has won the Republican nomination for governor, according to the Associated Press.

Mastriano, 58, prevailed in Tuesday’s nine-candidate primary election despite a frantic eleventh-hour push by some Pennsylvania GOP insiders to rally behind an alternative and avert what they fear will be certain defeat in November to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee. Mastriano got a late boost over the weekend, when Trump endorsed him.

“They like to call people who stand on the Constitution far-right extreme. I repudiate that. That is crap. Actually their party, which the media stands for and advocates for -- they’ve gone extreme,” Mastriano told supporters gathered at a restaurant.

Mastriano said his vision for Pennsylvania “is one of hope and freedom that people come here and walk as they see fit, not as some governor or some media hack sees fit.”

A retired Army colonel who enjoyed a rapid political ascent since his election to a south-central Pennsylvania state Senate seat in 2019, Mastriano has proposed banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions. He has called for eliminating property taxes, expanding charter schools, and banning “critical race theory” in schools.

Mastriano has pledged to decertify equipment from “compromised” vendors, espousing debunked conspiracy theories. He also said during a debate that he wants all 9 million registered voters in the state to re-register — an idea that would likely run afoul of federal law. He was in Washington for the rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, though he has said he left the area before the day turned violent.

As governor, he would have the power to appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, who would oversee how votes are cast and counted in the 2024 election.

» READ MORE: Mastriano embodies a Christian nationalist movement as he runs for governor: ‘We have the power of God’

Mastriano’s leading rivals were former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and former Delaware County Councilman Dave White.

With about 95% of the total expected votes counted late Tuesday night, Mastriano had won 42% of the total expected votes, compared with 19% for Barletta, 15% for McSwain, and 9% for White.

“Pennsylvanians need a governor who can meet this moment, but Republicans just nominated a dangerous extremist who wants to take away our freedoms,” Shapiro, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, said in a statement. “The contrast in this election could not be clearer — Doug Mastriano wants to ban abortion without exceptions, restrict the right to vote and spread conspiracy theories, and destroy the union way of life for hard working Pennsylvanians.”

At Barletta’s election-night party in Hazleton, about 50 supporters gathered at a restaurant in the center of the town where he was once mayor. Barletta addressed the crowd shortly after a campaign source said he called Mastriano to concede.

“Many Republicans are frustrated with the way this primary played out,” he said. “Party leaders, elected officials, and conservative organizations failed to take steps to prevent such a large field from forming.”

“But one thing we can all agree on,” Barletta added, “is that Josh Shapiro cannot be the next governor of Pennsylvania.”

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania Republicans tried to stop Doug Mastriano. But first they followed him.

The nine candidates on the ballot were the most in a Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial primary since 1978.

At its February meeting, the state GOP voted not to endorse a candidate for the first time in decades. And for much of the year, it seemed four or even five candidates were legitimate contenders — either because they were raising millions of dollars, or because they entered the race with strong name recognition among Republican voters.

In debates and on the campaign trail, the candidates showed broad agreement on policy.

They pledged to eliminate the expansion of no-excuse mail voting, which they blame for Trump’s 2020 defeat in Pennsylvania, and to enact stricter voter ID rules. They said they would curtail abortion access, withdraw the state from a regional greenhouse gas emissions compact, promote charter schools and other alternatives to traditional public education, and ban so-called critical race theory in K-12 schools. (Critical race theory is a graduate-level academic field of study about how race factors into American institutions that has become a catch-all term for how race is taught in schools.)

“We had the hardest-working campaign in the primary and we’re going to have the hardest-working campaign in this election,” Mastriano said in his victory speech, adding that Shapiro is “backed by dark money, by unions, corruption.”

The below graphic shows the most recent results reported. It is updated in real time.

Trump loomed large over the primary. Just as Republicans in Washington quickly made amends with the former president after the Capitol riot, GOP gubernatorial hopefuls in Pennsylvania aligned with Trump and eagerly and openly sought his endorsement. Several candidates — including Barletta, White, and state Senate leader Jake Corman — traveled to Florida to meet with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

They hired former Trump campaign staffers and consultants and, in Corman’s case, even featured one — Kellyanne Conway — in TV ads.

In mid-April, Trump issued a scathing statement denouncing McSwain as a “coward” for not prosecuting baseless claims of voter fraud. That attack seemed to stall McSwain’s momentum, at least for a time. The West Chester native had been endorsed by the influential Harrisburg-based conservative group Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, whose political committees ended up spending almost $13 million — on advertising and direct contributions — boosting his candidacy.

No other candidate came close in fund-raising. White, a wealthy HVAC contractor who gave his own campaign $5 million, also spent big on TV and gathered support from traditional party activists across the state.

Barletta struggled to raise money but entered the race with the advantage of having run for U.S. Senate in 2018 with Trump’s support, boosting his popularity among Republican voters.

But Mastriano demonstrated the strongest grassroots support — raising the most money from small-dollar donors, gathering the most signatures to get on the ballot, and drawing the biggest crowds to his campaign rallies.

As Mastriano appeared to take command of the race in its final weeks — growing his lead in the polls — Democrats tried to help put him over the top. Shapiro’s campaign ran TV ads linking Mastriano to Trump, and the state Democratic Party delivered a similar message in mailers to Republican primary voters.

Some establishment Republicans, fearing Mastriano would lose big in the general election, sought to coalesce behind a single alternative. Corman and a lesser-known candidate, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, dropped out of the race and backed Barletta. But with ballots already printed and election day nearing, the other leading candidates were reluctant to stand down and endorse one of the others.

On Sunday, Commonwealth Partners, the group that had powered McSwain’s candidacy, called for him to quit the race and threw its support to Barletta.

But it was too late to stop Mastriano.

As voters were going to the polls Tuesday, Trump blamed Barletta’s 2018 loss for his decision not to back the former congressman this time around, saying Barletta “ran a very bad race” that year.

“He was a little missing in action,” Trump told the conservative radio host Chris Stigall. “He did not run a good race. And he got beaten pretty badly.”

Addressing supporters in West Chester, McSwain called the campaign “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

“Anybody can be a good winner,” McSwain said. “What matters is how we conduct ourselves when we face adversity, when life gives us something that we might not choose for ourselves. And when that happens, we have to accept this disappointment. But we hold our heads high. We remain true to ourselves. We stick with our principles, and we act with dignity and honor. And that’s what I think we need in politics and that’s why I’m in it.”

-Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.