In early May, Pennsylvania Republican Party insiders were scrambling behind the scenes to clear the waters in the gubernatorial race and unite around a single candidate — basically anyone except Doug Mastriano. The money has been transferred. A survey has been commissioned.
Their thinking was that Mastriano, a state senator who aided Donald Trump’s attempts to reverse the 2020 election result, was too extreme and inexperienced to take on then-presumptive Democratic nominee Attorney General Josh Shapiro in November.
The plan failed spectacularly. Mastriano, later endorsed by Trump, destroyed the other eight candidates.
But a lot can change in a few months.
On Wednesday night, for example, a Republican leader from suburban Philadelphia who was at the center of those preprimary machinations is hosting a fundraising barbecue for Mastriano.
And a conservative PAC funded by billionaire Jeffrey Yass earmarked about $9.3 million in TV ad time, with the first set of ads targeting Shapiro. This group had also worked against Mastriano in the primary, spending an estimated $13 million in an unsuccessful attempt to stop his nomination.
Both developments are signs of a possible detente between Mastriano, 58, a retired army colonel, and the Republican establishment — at least within the party’s pro-business government wing.
Republican National Committee member and former Delco GOP leader Andy Reilly is co-hosting the Mastriano BBQ with Montgomery County Republican Committee Chair Liz Preate Havey.
On the menu: ribs, dogs, burgers, beer. Tickets: $100 to $5,000. Location: not without an RSVP first.
Reilly said Tuesday that Republicans should “review” Mastriano, whom he described as a “straight shooter.”
“Doug is for limited government and for protecting the freedoms of Pennsylvanians,” he said. “I respect, for the record, Ronald Reagan’s old adage that someone you agree with 80% of the time is your friend.”
READ MORE: Jewish Republican group slams Mastriano’s ties to extremist social media site
While it’s not at all unusual for party leaders to eventually back a candidate they opposed in the primary, the turnaround with Mastriano is particularly dramatic. Wednesday’s fundraiser is coordinated by PA Opportunity PAC, chaired by Reilly. That same PAC paid for the last-minute poll to identify an alternative to Mastriano in the primary.
In early May, as The Inquirer previously reported, Reilly wrote to people connected to the leading GOP candidates: “At this time, we consider this to be advisory. However, I think it would be best to commit to leaving with the candidate closest to M [Mastriano] and rally behind him.
On Tuesday, Reilly said he was acting as an “honest broker” among the other candidates and was not personally spearheading anyone but Mastriano’s scheme. He said his PAC only funded the ballot after a disagreement over how the other candidates’ campaigns would share the costs.
Meanwhile, Mastriano benefits from new anti-Shapiro ads bought by a PAC affiliated with the Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs. At primary, the group had backed former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain for the Republican nomination before a last-minute move to former U.S. Representative Lou Barletta. McSwain finished third in the primary, while Barletta came in second.
The ad focuses on inflation and crime and links Shapiro to President Joe Biden, whose approval rating has plummeted, calling them both “career politicians”.
An early poll shows Mastriano and Shapiro in a tight race, despite a significant resource imbalance. Mastriano had just $400,000 in his campaign bank account as of June 6, while Shapiro had over $13 million.
Mastriano, for his part, made a few attempts to heal some still fairly fresh in-party wounds.
Appearing on 1210-WPHT-AM on Monday afternoon, he spoke of winning “a tough primary” while being “outmatched 16-1” by his fellow Republican candidates.
“I got a lot of beatings from a few candidates with a lot of money, a lot of ads, a lot of mail against Doug Mastriano,” he said. “I kept the primary clean. I honored Ronald Reagan’s ’11th Commandment’ that you don’t speak ill of other Republicans.”
A review of the now-deleted Facebook Live videos Mastriano recorded before the primary undermines that claim.
In a video, he complains about “Swamp activities of certain members of the establishment” in Montgomery County, while in another he speaks of a “swamp, establishment conspiracy,” referring to efforts to coalesce behind a Republican candidate alternative.
READ MORE: Doug Mastriano deletes his videos from Facebook as he runs for governor of Pennsylvania
Other deleted videos feature Mastriano discussing a “corrupt” GOP establishment in Pennsylvania, and his belief that members of his party are working against him because they “secretly have this disdain and hatred for veterans.”
The Mastriano campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s fundraiser or the state of the race on Tuesday, nor has it responded in recent weeks to other requests from The Inquirer or of most media.
The candidate, however, appears to be taking some initial steps to move from a primary to a general election strategy, including on abortion, an issue he outlined during the primary. as “problem #1”.
On WPHT, Mastriano seemed to temper his unqualified opposition to abortion. Pressed on the issue by radio host Dom Giordano, he complained of “messaging” and insisted that the U.S. Supreme Court strike down Roe vs. Wade left decisions about abortion to state residents and their elected representatives in the General Assembly.
“In many ways, my personal opinions are irrelevant in that I can’t do anything about abortion because it’s codified in law,” Mastriano said, noting that the procedure is still legal in Pennsylvania. . “It’s in the hands of the people. That’s a fact. It’s not a dodge. That’s exactly how it works.
» READ MORE: Mastriano v. Shapiro: A deep division on abortion
Similarly, on Fox News last weekend, Mastriano told host Brian Kilmeade, “The abortion issue is not up to Governor Mastriano. …Pennsylvania residents decide what abortion and life in Pennsylvania looks like.
Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed three abortion bills during his tenure.
During a debate in April, Mastriano said his administration would “act with alacrity, with speed” if deer was overturned and that he would start by signing a so-called “heartbeat” law. As a state senator, he introduced such legislation, which would effectively ban abortion after about six weeks.
The Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this month approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would explicitly state that the document does not guarantee any abortion-related rights. If passed again in the 2023-24 legislative session, it could pass voters as early as the May 2023 primary.
Mastriano’s primary victory prompted the launch earlier this month of two Republican-led independent spending political action committees seeking to help Shapiro win in November.
A national super PAC, the Republican Accountability Project, said it would spend $2 million to oppose Mastriano. A state super PAC, Republicans 4 Shapiro, denounced the Republican nominee as “unacceptable” and dangerous.
Mastriano dismissed those groups with a common political slur, “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only, while claiming to have the support of elected Democratic leaders who want him to beat Shapiro. Mastriano has made the claim twice this month, in a podcast and again at a Republican Party meeting, offering no details or evidence each time.