Pennsylvania state Senator Doug Mastriano’s plans to soon announce whether he’ll run for U.S. Senate next year have Pennsylvania’s movement conservatives brimming with feelings — not all of them positive.
The Republican who represents Gettysburg, Chambersburg and surrounding communities suffered an overwhelming defeat last year when he ran for governor against Democrat Josh Shapiro. After Mastriano indicated he would publicly decide on a bid against Democratic Senator Bob Casey in just days, state Representative Russ Diamond (R-Jonestown) wrote a tweetstorm Monday urging fellow Republicans to entreat Mastriano not to run.
Diamond, who ran for lieutenant governor in the 2022 primary but lost the nomination to then-state Representative Carrie DelRosso, blamed a divisive gubernatorial campaign for the GOP’s narrow loss of the state House of Representatives in November. The Lebanon Countian faulted Mastriano for political ineptitude, citing a failure to spend nearly $1.1 million of the campaign funds the senator raised as well as an ideologically rigid persona.
“I had some Republican women who live right down the street from me who told me they could not vote for him because he was just too extreme,” Diamond told The Pennsylvania Daily Star.
Himself a conservative stalwart who became famous when he led a campaign against lawmakers for their roles in the infamous 2005 pay raise and other scandals, the representative posted a screenshot evidencing his willingness last year to aid Mastriano. The image shows a May 2020 text message from Diamond to Mastriano congratulating the latter on his primary victory and asking him “what I can do to help you beat Shapiro[?]” According to an explanatory tweet by Diamond, Mastriano “never took me up on my offer.”
The representative also chastised Mastriano for “morphing [anti-COVID-lockdown and election-integrity concerns] into a cult of personality where any question or debate of him or his actions was strictly verboten.” The two led rallies against Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) stringent COVID-19 countermeasures beginning in April 2020, but Diamond said he soon perceived grandstanding on the senator’s part.
“As those rallies continued, it started to resemble a gubernatorial campaign,” Diamond said. “Instead of him coming out and speaking, he would come out with his wife and get the adoration and all that sort of thing. That’s when I started breaking off a little bit.”
According to polling, Mastriano would commence a 2024 Senate run deeply underwater: A Franklin & Marshall College survey indicates Casey would beat the state lawmaker today by 16 points while failed 2022 GOP Senate nominee Dave McCormick would lose by seven points. Still, Mastriano has a strong base among Republican voters, having garnered 43.8 percent of their nomination vote last year, vastly surpassing even his strongest primary rival, former Congressman Lou Barletta, who received 20.3 percent.
Phyllis Schlafly Pennsylvania Eagles Chairman Stan Casacio, a former congressional and Montgomery County controller candidate, was among those Mastriano voters. He said he believes the candidate will “win in a landslide” if he more aggressively seeks press coverage and if more Republican officials robustly back him in 2024. Casacio complained that many media outlets and public figures tarred the senator as a right-wing fringe candidate whose rhetoric was too religiously sectarian.
“Doug, to me, was mainstream,” Casacio said. “He was not radical in any stretch of the imagination, but that’s the game that’s played today.”
The Whitemarsh resident said he doubted the extent of Mastriano’s nearly 15-point loss to Shapiro last year, mentioning integrity concerns around Pennsylvania’s new law permitting no-excuse absentee-voting.
In the estimation of Mastriano 2022 southeast regional director Don Bieshl, that loss is something that stronger GOP support would enable the senator to overcome should he attempt to unseat Casey next year. The host of The Conservative Voice on WWDB 860 AM told The Daily Star a well-funded campaign highlighting Mastriano’s U.S. Army service and foreign policy expertise would position him for success.
“Hopefully the party will get enthusiastically behind him this time and provide him with the needed resources to explain his positions more clearly [rather] than just leaving it up to people knocking on doors and things of that nature,” Bieshl said. “Obviously you need to have funding to run TV ads and stuff like that and we received zero funding from the [Republican National Committee]; we received zero funding from the national [Republican] Governors Association.”
Bieshl pushed back on Diamond’s assertion that Mastriano failed to spend all of his campaign money, stating that much of it came in the final days of the race from theretofore unsupportive Republican bigwigs hoping to “save face.” That, he said, left scant opportunity for the senator to utilize it.
“What can you do with money that you get two days before the election?” Bieshl said.
The Bucks County-based commentator also reproached the free-market Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs for spending $16 million on the gubernatorial primary, mostly in support of former federal Attorney Bill McSwain, but not financially backing Mastriano post-nomination.
Addressing that complaint, Commonwealth Partners President Matthew Brouillette voiced a grievance many have made regarding Mastriano: Help was offered but not accepted.
Brouillette said he had a dialogue with the candidate shortly after the primary stating his organization was willing to financially aid the general-election effort. When Brouillette offered to set up a meeting with potential donors, he said, Mastriano declined the first suggested time due to a scheduling conflict and ignored a subsequent text asking to name an alternate date.
“I said, ‘Give me dates that will work,’” Brouillette said. “That was last I ever heard from Doug in the entire campaign. Despite that, we spent millions of dollars in June, July and August to try to keep him in play and he did nothing to expand the electorate beyond his base. And I heard story after story of people trying to help Doug and him not taking anyone up on it.”
Diamond said he heard the same lamentation “from numerous sources” about the senator’s failure to avail himself of offered support.
Ultimately, Brouillette said, Mastriano cannot effectively harness his base support for general-election success because he doesn’t realize how limited that support is.
“Doug lives inside a bubble — an echo chamber — of love and he does not go outside of that bubble to understand what it takes to win in Pennsylvania,” Brouillette explained. “His massive, double-digit loss in 2022 should be a reality check but I guess he doesn’t want to face reality when it comes to his electoral potential.”
At this early stage, Brouillette said, McCormick is positioning himself as “the most viable candidate,” being someone who “shares conservative principles but can appeal to the critical swing voter in Pennsylvania.”
Former Montgomery County Young Republicans chair and former Broad + Liberty Octavius V. Catto fellow Chris Mundiath echoed Brouillette’s assessment of Mastriano.
“He didn’t win the previous election because he catered to a very specific group of people that doesn’t appeal to independents and even more centrist Republicans at all,” Mundiath said. “I knew many people in the southeast — in Montgomery County, Chester County, etc. — who were staunch Trump supporters but also didn’t like Doug because it seemed that he was always catering to these groups of people.”
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Doug Mastriano” by Majorbuxton. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “U.S. Capitol” by Quick PS.