HARISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) – Donald Trump on Saturday approved Doug Mastrian in the Republican gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania, sided with a far-right candidate who was outside the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 uprising and worked hard to repeal the 2020 election.
Mastriana has already led in a number of contenders, and the former president’s approval makes him even stronger ahead of Tuesday’s primaries.
But there are growing fears among party leaders that Mastrian, a state senator and retired U.S. Army colonel, is too extreme to defeat Democrat Josh Shapiro in November’s general election and could lead to other Republicans fighting in the main state. This includes a competition in the U.S. Senate in which Trump is trying to elevate his approved candidate to victory in a highly competitive race.
Mastrian, for example, helped spread unsubstantiated allegations by Trump and his associates that Democrats had fraudulently stolen Joe Biden’s election – something that Trump took advantage of in his statement of support.
“There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more or fought more for the integrity of the election than Senator Doug Mastrian,” Trump wrote. “He has exposed fraud, corruption and outright theft in the 2020 presidential election and will do something about it.”
Trump called Mastrian “a fighter few others have been with me from the beginning, and now I have a duty to be with him.”
In addition to campaigning with key figures in Trump’s circle who spread lies about the last election, Mastriana also devised a plan that would allow state lawmakers to destroy the election results and make their own decisions about which candidate should get state votes.
As a result, he was summoned to the U.S. House of Representatives Commission to Investigate the Capitol Revolt on January 6, 2021.
Mastriana said he would take an extraordinary step to require voters to “re-register” to vote. “We will start all over again,” he said during a debate last month.
The move is prohibited by the National Voter Registration Act and likely faces significant protection from federal – and possibly state – constitutions and laws, constitutional law scholars say.
After the election, Mastriana boasted to supporters in online chats about his frequent talks with Trump. Mastriana arranged bus trips to the U.S. Capitol for Trump’s “Stop Theft” rally shortly before the riots, where Mastiana was seen in footage of his wife passing through breached barricades set up by police.
Trump was torn apart by the decision to approve the presidential race.
Some allies have desperately urged him not to race or support a rival from Mastrian, such as Lou Barlett, a former congressman who was Trump’s candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Mastriana is leading among Republican candidates with nine people, and party officials and conservatives believe that votes for more elected candidates from the establishment are too scattered to prevent him from consolidating far-right voters.
On Friday, Mastrian told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room online that the Republican establishment was “panicking, I mean, literally wetting itself” from the prospect of becoming a candidate.
In Saturday’s statement, Mastriana said it was “an honor” for him to receive Trump’s approval, and he referred to Pennsylvania residents “who want their personal freedoms restored, power returned to the people and their elected leaders fulfilling America First.” and “Pennsylvania First.”
“Our supporters across Pennsylvania know that Donald Trump and I will always support their backs,” Mastriana wrote. “We are all trying to end the era of party bosses, black money groups and failed elections.”
Barletta has spent the last few days accumulating establishments, including from members of Congress. He avoided criticizing Mastian by name, other than trying to prove he was the most chosen candidate in the primaries.
On Saturday, he claimed he could still defeat Mastrian.
“I will continue to prove to people that I am the only candidate who can unite the party and bring victory in November. I look forward to President Trump’s approval on Wednesday morning, “Barletta wrote.
Trump’s main focus in Pennsylvania was the primaries in the Senate, where his approved candidate, renowned cardiac surgeon Mehmet Oz, is considered vulnerable.
In many cases, ordinary Republican voters, conservative activists, and hardliners for Trump have refused to support Oz just because Trump is doing so.
Some allies have tried to persuade the former president that Mastrian’s support will hurt Oz because Mastrian worked closely and campaigned with one of Oz’s rivals, Katie Barnett.
But because Trump worries about Oz’s chances, Mastrian’s support is seen as a means to protect his ego, ensuring a likely victory if Oz loses.
Republicans, in particular, are worried that Mastriana is too toxic to win moderate voters in the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in November. Critics fear he will jeopardize Republican candidates who do not vote in the election because of low voter turnout.
However, Barletta acknowledged that there was very little difference in policy between him and Mastrian.
Republicans have been ousted as governor of Pennsylvania since 2014 under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has been barred from running again for a limited time.