Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, is perhaps best known as a stand-up voter who was in the US Capitol on Jan. 6. John Fetterman, the Democrat who hopes to flip the state’s Senate seat, has revolutionized the way campaigns use social media. and dr Mehmet Oz was a TV celebrity long before he launched a GOP Senate campaign.
And then there’s Josh Shapiro.
In one of America’s most politically competitive states, the Democratic nominee for governor is running a remarkably drama-free campaign, betting that a relatively low-key approach will resonate with voters jaded by a deeply charged political environment. But Shapiro faces a test of whether his comparatively reserved style will persuade Democrats to rally against Mastriano, whom many in the party see as an existential threat.
The GOP candidate, who worked to keep Donald Trump in power and overthrow President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, supports ending abortion rights and would be able to appoint the secretary of state to lead the election in this State monitors, which is often crucial in the election of presidents.
The tension of Shapiro’s strategy was evident in a recent panning tour of this small town, a dot in deep Republican south-central Pennsylvania. He spent 10 minutes going through his two-term record as attorney general and his policy goals if he becomes governor, such as expanding high-speed internet and increasing school funding. But he also admitted he knew what viewers had on their minds, noting how his wife would simply remind him every morning, “You’d better win.”
Shapiro, 49, then became more explicit on the implications of a Mastriano win.
“This guy is the most dangerous, extreme person to ever run for governor of Pennsylvania, and by far the most dangerous, extreme candidate running for office in the United States,” Shapiro told the Chambersburg crowd , Mastriano’s home base in his country’s conservative Senate district.
Shapiro is waging something of a two-pronged campaign, one for a conventional election year and another to address the tense political environment following the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol and the overthrow of the landmark Roe v Wade decision ensuring the Right to abortion.
Last month, Shapiro released a national TV ad discussing a case he brought as Attorney General against a contractor who agreed to return wages after Shapiro’s office accused him of stealing from workers. He then also aired TV ads describing Mastriano as a threat to democracy, noting that on January 6, 2021, Mastriano watched pro-Trump protesters attack police in the US Capitol.
“That day, my opponent sided with the angry mob, marched to the Capitol, broke through the police lines, and he did it for one reason: They didn’t want their votes to count,” Shapiro told an audience in Gettysburg that caused a woman to shout, “He’s a traitor.”
That message is not lost on Democrats going to Shapiro.
“I think this is just a critical election,” said Marissa Sandoe, 29. “I think this election will decide whether we still have a democracy in this nation.”
Shapiro later shrugged off suggestions that, for his supporters, the crud of gubernatorial politics of the normal year was drowned out by existential issues like saving democracy.
“I’m focused like a laser beam on improving the lives of Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said.
The first half of a new government is often a challenge for the president’s party. But for now, polls suggest Shaprio is leading Mastriano and he also has a significant fundraising advantage. Shapiro has done more than $20 million worth of television commercials, while Mastriano has done little and has done nothing since the primary.
Shaprio, who is fighting in the state where Biden was born, could benefit from a rebound in Biden’s approval.
The president’s popularity has improved to 45% nationwide from 36% in July despite concerns about his handling of the economy, according to a September poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Republican Party leaders, who initially criticized Mastriano for being too extreme to win the general election next fall, say he could still win despite his shortcomings if voters are angry enough about inflation to play every box against the Democrats tick as a vote against Biden.
But Republicans recognize that Mastriano is leading a race largely centered on his right base, rather than appealing to the moderates, who often put winners ahead of the top in one of America’s most politically divided states.
Mastriano has received institutional fundraising, including events spearheaded by state party leaders Donald Trump Jr. and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but Republican strategists have whispered that the fundraisers are not well attended and Mastriano took to Facebook this week to complain about a lack of support from “republican organizations at the national level”.
“We haven’t seen much help from them and we’re out 49 days,” Mastriano said.
At campaign rallies, Mastriano promises to be a pro-energy governor and bus migrants to Biden’s Delaware home, and he warns that Shapiro is pursuing an extreme agenda.
“If there’s anything we’re extreme about, it’s about loving our Constitution,” Mastriano said earlier this month before a rally in nearby Chambersburg.
For his part, Shapiro is bravely going through the campaign, exploiting Mastriano’s weaknesses. The Democrat will be a guest at the annual dinner of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, a group accustomed to backing Republicans for governor, in early October. Mastriano has not even accepted his invitation to address his board, which Shapiro has already done.
Construction unions working on power plants, pipelines and refineries at a coal and natural gas plant have ignored Mastriano’s promise that “we will drill and dig like there’s no tomorrow”.
Instead, they have accepted Shapiro’s mediocre stance on energy and attacked Mastriano’s support for the right to work as an anathema, even for rank and file members who vote Republican.
“One thing my members have is that they will never date anyone who is pro-right to work,” said James Snell, executive director of Steamfitters Local 420 in Philadelphia.
Shapiro also takes centrist positions, which could help him inoculate against Mastriano’s attacks.
The race got personal, with Mastriano repeatedly criticizing Shapiro’s choice of a private school for his children — a Jewish day school — as “one of the most privileged, eligible schools in the nation.”
Shapiro, a devout conservative Jew, responded that Mastriano — who espouses what scholars call a Christian nationalist ideology — wants to impose his religion on others and “tell people where and how to worship and on what terms.”
Shapiro went deeper into Mastriano, saying he speaks “in anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic tropes every day.” Mastriano cites these distractions from Shapiro’s record as Attorney General and failure to curb rising homicides in Philadelphia.
Still, Shapiro draws crowds to Mastriano’s lawn, a far cry from his power base in the upscale Philadelphia suburbs.
It’s fertile ground, said Marty Qually, a Democratic district commissioner in Adams County, which includes Gettysburg, because Democrats are more upset than he’s seen before, and even Republicans there tell him they’re Mastrianos cannot accept Christian nationalism or its uncompromising pro-abortion stance.
It speaks volumes that Shapiro is campaigning in small towns rather than Democratic strongholds: it means he’s comfortable with where the race is taking place, Qually said.
“Some people here were like, ‘Why do you want to go to Franklin County? Here comes the other one,’” Shapiro told the Chambersburg crowd. “Let me tell you something. I’m glad I came. You will make me feel at home.”
Through MARC LEVY
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today lehighvalleylive.com.