Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated far-right Republican Doug Mastriano in the Pennsylvania governor’s race on Tuesday, NBC News projected, providing Democrats with a significant victory in a contest where oversight of the 2024 election and abortion rights took center stage.
Just after 1:30 a.m. ET, Shapiro led by double-digits.
Shapiro, the state attorney general, framed his opponent as an extremist and sought to make his campaign about protecting Pennsylvanians’ freedom to vote, to access abortion care and to unionize. Mastriano, a state senator who led the charge to try to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, generated a core of grassroots GOP supporters during the primary but was unable to broaden his coalition.
"You met this moment," Shapiro said at his election night party. "We showed in this campaign that no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love or who you pray to, you are valued here in Pennsylvania and we hear you. Tonight, you, the good people of Pennsylvania, you won. Opportunity won. A woman’s right to choose won."
"The right to organize here in Pennsylvania, that won," he continued. "Your right to vote won. And in the face of all the lies and conspiracies and baseless claims, you also ensured tonight that truth won right here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And you know what else won tonight? I’ll tell you what else won tonight. Real freedom won tonight."
A former Army colonel, Mastriano centered culture-war issues throughout his candidacy and wove themes of Christian nationalism into his campaign, including expressing a disdain for the separation of church and state. For his part, Shapiro sought to define himself as the rational, moderate alternative to Mastriano’s hard-line political brand while countering GOP messaging on crime by touting his support for hiring more police officers and promoting endorsements from law enforcement officials.
Speaking to reporters on his campaign bus last week, Shapiro said Mastriano “is by far the most extreme and dangerous person to ever run for public office in Pennsylvania. And I think he poses a clear and present danger to democracy, our freedom and our safety.”
Throughout his campaign, Shapiro touted his record as attorney general and pledged to protect abortion rights in the state, which were front-and-center in the campaign because the party that controls the governor’s mansion will play an outsize role in the future of abortion policy in the state.
Shapiro expressed support for the status quo in Pennsylvania, which allows for abortion in all cases for the first 23 weeks and then with exceptions after that. Mastriano said his position on abortion was irrelevant because abortion laws are ultimately up to the state Legislature. In Pennsylvania, Republicans have controlled the executive and legislative branches for years, making it likely that Mastriano, who has said abortion is murder, could sign new restrictions into law.
Elected to the state Senate in 2019, Mastriano rose to prominence after the 2020 election when Trump sought allies in state Legislatures to help him reverse his loss. Mastriano was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, though he said he did not go inside. His campaign paid to bus people to the rally that preceded the riot.
Mastriano emerged from a deep Republican primary field that failed to coalesce around an alternative before it was too late, and Trump endorsed his candidacy just days ahead of the May vote. With Mastriano’s lead looking insurmountable, Shapiro cut a campaign ad that was widely seen as boosting the state senator’s candidacy, and Democrats have since taken to tying any Pennsylvania Republican to him in ads.
A number of prominent Republicans have steered clear of Mastriano. He did not win the backing of Sen. Pat Toomey (the Republican whose retirement opened up the seat), the Republican Governors Association did not inject significant spending into his race, and Republican Mehmet Oz, the party’s Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, rarely appeared at events with him and courted moderate voters who backed Shapiro but were wary of the Democratic Senate nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
"There was one thing that I liked that Fetterman said the other day," Mastriano, a state senator, said at Trump’s rally Saturday, where Oz also spoke. "Just one thing: when he accused Oz of rolling with Mastriano."
Mastriano’s bid was also dogged by allegations of antisemitism. Over the summer, he came under fire for a campaign payment to the far-right social media platform Gab, on which the man accused of carrying out the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh had posted antisemitic rants. Gab’s founder has said there is no room for Jews, atheists and others in the conservative movement he wants to foster.
Amid the firestorm, Mastriano posted a statement saying, “I reject anti-Semitism in any form.”
He later drew scrutiny for saying that the Jewish day school that Shapiro, an observant Jew, had attended was a “privileged, exclusive, elite” school. A top Mastriano campaign adviser would later call Shapiro “at best a secular Jew” while Mastriano’s wife, Rebbie, said in late October, “as a family we so much love Israel, in fact I’m gonna say we probably love Israel more than a lot of Jews do.”