The Danger and the Opportunity in Pennsylvania
Yesterday’s primary election in the Keystone state is going into overtime on the GOP Senate race, but the governor’s race has already produced a clear primary winner. State Senator Doug Mastriano handily rose to the top of a crowded field of GOP candidates, and that sets up a critical showdown with the Democratic contender, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed. The race has outsized national implications, so it’s worth diving into what’s at stake in Pennsylvania in November 2022.
The 2024 Election Is on the Ballot
Mastriano is perhaps best known for his full-throated election denials and his involvement in January 6, having been at or near the center of attempts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election. His candidacy raises the grim prospect, should he prevail, of an insurrectionist and coup-plotter having direct say over the fate of 20 electoral votes from the state. Unlike in other states, in Pennsylvania the governor appoints the Secretary of State, which means that Mastriano, if elected, almost certainly would place a supporter of the Big Lie in charge of running and certifying the election in 2024. It is thus also a near certainty that his candidacy will mean a wholesale relitigation of the 2020 election during the campaign. There is also the chance that Mastriano may be called to testify before a grand jury or may even face the prospect of criminal conspiracy charges, creating a circus out of an already tumultuous election.
Back in November 2020, when Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania was certified, Mastriano introduced a resolution in the GOP-controlled state legislature that would have overturned the results and appointed electors who would declare Trump the winner instead. At the time, the resolution failed. But as we’ve seen in Florida, should an extremist GOP governor be paired with a GOP legislature, the rot can spread easily from the top and all manner of electoral malfeasance becomes possible.
Following the election, on November 25, 2020 Mastriano helped organize an unofficial state Senate Republican “hearing” on the election at a hotel conference room in Gettysburg. Rudy Giuliani attended in person and Trump video conferenced in, claiming that the election was rigged. “This election has to be turned around,” Trump told the Gettysburg attendees.
After that, Mastriano was in regular contact with Trump (he claims 15 discussions) and on January 6 was physically outside the Capitol during the insurrection. His involvement in helping name an “alternative slate” of electors for Trump gained the attention of the January 6 Committee, which issued a subpoena for him to testify. Mastriano has refused to discuss the deposition or whether he complied with requests to turn over documents, and he has steadfastly refused requests by the press to answer questions over his involvement with January 6.
To underscore the risk that a Mastriano governorship poses to the integrity of the electoral system, at his campaign victory celebration last night Mastriano was captured speaking with Ivan Raiklin, a “constitutional lawyer” and army reserve lieutenant colonel who worked closely with former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to overturn the 2020 election and is now working with John Eastman and others to “decertify” the election two years later. After Raiklin asked Mastriano what he’d like to say to Pennsylvanians upon clinching his victory, Raiklin remarked rather darkly, “20 electoral votes as well!”
Abortion Rights are on the Ballot
Adding to the importance of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Mastriano and Shapiro hold diametrically opposed views on the question of reproductive rights. Mastriano is a Christian nationalist and an extremist on the question of abortion, calling it a “science-denying genocide” and promising recently in a debate that he would ban abortion in all cases, without exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
Shapiro, by contrast, has promised to veto any abortion restrictions. “They’re coming for all your rights, and I’ll be there to defend you every single step of the way,” Shapiro said at a rally in Philadelphia a few days after the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked. Because the GOP controls the legislature and will likely continue to hold it due to partisan gerrymandering, and with federal courts obliged to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s lead, the governor may be the only bulwark remaining to keep abortion bans from becoming law in the state.
The Senate Balance of Power Is on the Ballot
Democrats are hoping that Mastriano’s extremism will galvanize voters, particularly women and young voters who form much of the Democratic base. The Senate race already promises to be very closely watched because of the possibility of a Democratic pick-up of the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). But the added stakes in the governor’s race, high as they are, could have a strong spillover effect. If Democratic voters are motivated to turn out against Trump’s lackey and co-conspirator, someone who could undo election results in 2024 and strip away all abortion rights in the state if elected, the upsurge in voter enthusiasm could tip the Senate race toward the Democrats. A win by Democratic senate hopeful John Fetterman would complicate the math for Republicans to seize back control of the chamber, requiring them to win not one but two seats currently held by Democratic incumbents in the evenly divided body.
For this reason, we are likely to see national party leadership on both sides keenly interested and involved with the governor’s election in Pennsylvania. Both parties will need to make their case as to why the state matters and why their voters must turn out, and both parties will be pouring considerable resources into Pennsylvania to secure control of the governor’s mansion.