Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for governor, putting a last-minute seal of approval on the far-right front-runner who has embraced his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
"There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano," Trump said in a statement Saturday.
Trump’s backing comes just days before a Tuesday primary where Mastriano has solidified himself as the leading candidate. Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general who is unopposed in his party’s primary for governor, has aired a TV ad seemingly designed to fortify Mastriano, whom even many Republicans believe would be their weakest candidate in a general election because of his extreme positions.
Shapiro responded Saturday at a campaign stop in north Philadelphia, tying Mastriano to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
"There was a prominent Pennsylvanian there that day. And he marched to the Capitol. The police told him to stop. And he kept going. He was at the insurrection. And he's poised to be my opponent in this governor's race," Shapiro said, without mentioning Mastriano's name. "That's the modern day Republican Party."
Mastriano was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest Biden’s victory — he has said he left before the subsequent riot inside — and his campaign paid to bus people to Washington for the rally that preceded the violence.
Several GOP leaders have called for the party to coalesce around a different candidate, former Rep. Lou Barletta.
Two Republicans — State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and former Rep. Melissa Hart — ended their campaigns for governor this week and endorsed Barletta.
Barletta issued a statement shortly after Trump’s, vowing to win the primary without his endorsement.
"Throughout this campaign I have proved that I’m the best Republican to unite the Republican Party and defeat Josh Shapiro, and I will continue unifying our grassroots conservatives towards our shared goal," Barletta said. "I will continue making the case to the people that I am the only candidate who can unite the party and bring victory in November. I look forward to having President Trump’s endorsement Wednesday morning."
Pennsylvania’s race to succeed term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is among the most important in the country this year. The next governor has the power to appoint a secretary of state to oversee vote-counting in what is a crucial battleground in presidential elections.
Mastriano is perhaps the state’s most prominent 2020 election denier, having led the charge to audit and reverse President Joe Biden’s win there.
He spearheaded a hearing in which Trump attorneys presented false claims of electoral fraud and pushed for the Legislature to appoint a slate of alternate electors.
He was subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 committee this year over his efforts tied to the alternate electors.
The endorsement of Mastriano, a MAGA favorite, helps relieve some of the pressure Trump is under in Pennsylvania for his backing of Mehmet Oz, the celebrity TV doctor whom many hard-core conservatives dislike, in the Senate primary.
In an interview after his stump speech Saturday, Shapiro said the "stakes couldn't be higher" if the Trump-endorsed Mastriano is his opponent this fall. He said the election is about whether government should "control people's bodies" and "rig the elections" — or focus on tackling gun violence, education and poverty.
Asked if he favors any limits on legal abortion, Shapiro said he supports the Pennsylvania law allowing it up to 24 weeks.
As Trump and his allies keep close tabs on his wins and losses, the Mastriano endorsement could help improve Trump's record because polls indicate Mastriano is favored to win, while Oz appears locked in a three-way tie for the lead.
In that primary, once considered a battle between well-funded candidates Oz and former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, the lesser-known Kathy Barnette has surged late, prompting a flurry of attacks against her. Mastriano is running hand-in-hand with Barnette.
In his statement endorsing Mastriano Saturday, Trump again boosted his preferred Senate candidate.
"Doug Mastriano and Dr. Mehmet Oz will make an unbeatable team going into the most important Midterm Election in the history of our Country," Trump said.