Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The Republican race for Pa. governor is all about Doug Mastriano with one week left

Polling and interviews with GOP insiders point to Mastriano as the clear front-runner, with everyone else playing catch-up. Here’s what you should know with one week left.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican front-runner for governor in the May 17 primary, campaigns last month in Camp Hill.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican front-runner for governor in the May 17 primary, campaigns last month in Camp Hill.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

The Republican primary for Pennsylvania governor is coming down to the wire.

In a nine-person race, no candidate is expected to get a majority of the vote in next Tuesday’s election. But recent polling, both public surveys and campaigns’ internal polls, as well as interviews with GOP insiders point to a clear front-runner: State Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Everyone else is playing catch-up, and while some Republicans are warning that Mastriano could cost the party up and down the ballot in the general election, his opponents haven’t coalesced behind a single alternative. Mastriano’s leading rivals are former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, former Delaware County Councilman Dave White, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.

Also running are state Senate leader Jake Corman, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, heart surgeon Nche Zama, and political consultant Charlie Gerow.

The winner will face state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democrat running.

Here’s what you should know with one week left:

All about Doug

Mastriano, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and a leading election denier in Pennsylvania, appeared to gain a foothold as front-runner in recent weeks, and a new poll released Monday showed his biggest lead yet.

A Trafalgar Group survey of more than 1,000 likely primary voters showed Mastriano with 27.6% of the vote — 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, Barletta, who had 17.6%. White followed with 15%, and McSwain with 14%. No other candidate had double-digit support, and 11% of those surveyed said they were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.99 percentage points.

Mastriano’s opponents recognize his standing at the top of the polls — he’s the subject of an avalanche of TV commercials. Rivals and outside political groups are attacking his statements early in the pandemic in favor of rolling back federal privacy protections for COVID-19 patients, and his record on election policy.

In March 2020, Mastriano wrote a letter to Trump requesting a rollback of federal patient privacy rules for COVID-19 patients, according to a news release at the time. “Failure to do so threatens the lives of citizens,” Mastriano said.

He also introduced legislation that would amend confidentiality rules during a pandemic.

“We can’t trust Doug Mastriano to be governor,” the narrator says in one McSwain ad.

Mastriano later became a vociferous critic of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic restrictions and has made personal freedom central to his campaign.

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

Another group, Pennsylvania Patriots for Election Integrity, is spending more than $1 million on ads highlighting Mastriano’s vote for legislation that expanded mail voting and accusing him of failing to investigate the 2020 election. Mastriano, like other Republicans who voted for the law, has blamed the Wolf administration for how the law was implemented. He pushed for a partisan probe of the election but was sidelined by Corman in a Harrisburg power struggle.

Pennsylvania Patriots filed paperwork as an LLC in Ohio last month. It does not appear to have disclosed its donors.

And last week, Shapiro started airing an ad linking Mastriano to Trump in an effort to simultaneously boost the senator in the primary and define him as deeply conservative in the general election. The state Democratic Party also sent mailers to registered Republicans linking Mastriano to Trump.

Mastriano’s campaign has not responded to repeated inquiries over the course of the campaign.

No Trump endorsement – but they’re all pro-Trump

In such a crowded primary, Trump’s endorsement could make all the difference. But his Friday rally in Western Pennsylvania came and went without him anointing a favorite, despite anticipation in GOP circles that he might use the appearance to make a pick.

Trump has urged Republicans not to vote for McSwain — accusing the former prosecutor he appointed of failing to investigate baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and calling him a “coward.

But even if Trump stays out, he can’t really lose.

Each of the leading candidates has sought the former president’s support and aligned with him on key issues, like pledging to repeal no-excuse mail voting in the state.

McSwain is outspending his rivals big time

Despite Trump’s rebuke, McSwain still has a shot.

His campaign and a conservative political group backing him — Commonwealth Leaders Fund — have spent almost $10 million on TV ads, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising. That’s about twice as much as any other candidate has spent.

McSwain raised $6 million from March 29 through May 2, according to financial filings – more than twice as much as White, 10 times Barletta’s haul, and 31 times as much as Mastriano, who raised just $192,000.

McSwain’s fund-raising included almost $5 million from a political group affiliated with Commonwealth Partners, the same entity that runs Commonwealth Leaders Fund. The group’s biggest donors include billionaire Pennsylvania investor Jeffrey Yass and Dick Uihlein, an Illinois GOP donor and CEO of ULine, a packing supply company.

Closing arguments

In ads and on the campaign trail, candidates are making their final pitches.

In Drexel Hill last Thursday, hundreds of supporters filled a ballroom for a campaign rally that featured White and entertainment from the Soul Cruisers.

“We are going to for the first time have a pipefitter, high school graduated vo-tech student be the nominee for governor of this great commonwealth,” White, a wealthy HVAC contractor, told supporters. “…There is no other candidate that used to get up at 5 in the morning, carry a lunch pail to work, work long hours so they can make a better life for their kids and now their grandchildren.”

» READ MORE: Get to know the 2022 candidates for Pa. Senate and governor

Barletta is highlighting his early support for Trump’s 2016 campaign and his record as mayor of Hazleton in the 2000s, when he drew national attention for his opposition to illegal immigration. “I am proven, road-tested, and ready,” Barletta says in one ad. “I am pro-God, pro-gun, pro-family, pro-life, and pro-America.”

McSwain is campaigning on his plan to cut the state’s gas tax by 50% — highlighting the proposal at a gas station in Merion Station last week — and on his record as a federal prosecutor. “Stop gambling with career politicians,” the narrator says in one of McSwain’s ads. It highlights his background as a Marine, “Trump-appointed prosecutor,” and political outsider.

Mastriano says he’s running to “restore our families, our economy, and to make us the greatest state in the nation.”

“The lockdowns assaulted our freedoms, masking our children, closing our businesses, and confining the elderly,” Mastriano says in a TV ad. “We stood together through those dark times protecting medical freedom, reopening our economy and our schools.”