“Nobody wanted him,” said the Republican, who requested anonymity to speak frankly.
However, in the Republican primaries, a surprising number of Republican voters did. For months, Republicans have been reviewing internal polls that suggested Mastriano was on course to win 20% of the vote or less. He finished nearly 44 percent, doubling over his closest competitor, former Representative Lou Barletta, while carrying an even more subdued Philadelphia and two of its collar counties, Bucks and Montgomery.
“That ended his path,” said Joshua Novotney, a Republican lobbyist and former aide to the senator. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania. There were the top 20% or so, Novotney said – “people who wanted to remake 2020 … that was the core of it.” And then there was the rest. “The extra 20 or 23 percent he earned later, I think it’s people who are fed up and don’t want to hear the kind of mainstream music and dance. They don’t like what’s going on.”
When I asked Novotney if Mastriano could expand his support from 44% of the primary electorate to a majority vote in a general election, he paused. In a normal year, maybe not. But many seasoned Republican and Democrat strategists assumed in early 2016 that Trump was also ineligible. He carried Pennsylvania that year. And between inflation and President Joe Biden’s low public approval ratings, a measure closely tied to a party’s performance in midterms, the electoral climate for Democrats is even worse this year than it was then.
“I would say he’s not running against Josh Shapiro,” Novotney said. “He’s running against Joe Biden, and anything is possible.”
Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist who ran for governor and ended up far behind in the field, said Mastriano’s appeal “is pretty clear. It is the people who are really outraged by what is happening in our country, our state, our society, our neighborhoods,” he said. “They’re upset about having to pay five dollars a gallon for gas, that if they can find the groceries they want, they have to pay through the nose for them, and they don’t like what’s going on in our schools, and they want change.”
Now that they have Mastriano, he said, “I remember the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.’
In rural Pennsylvania, where “Let’s Go Brandon,” “Fuck Biden” and “Trump 2024” signs fill the landscape, it seems possible. And on social media, where Mastriano has developed a large chunk of his following — by filming himself talking to his supporters online — it seems like providence.
Sitting in front of an American flag, a ring of light visible in the reflection of his glasses, Mastriano addresses his supporters as he would his friends: “Hello Matt and Karen… Hey Steve, good morning… Liz , good to see you. Hi Rachel.”
In return, he receives comments like these:
“We will resume our state with the grace of God.”
“God is good.”
“He was appointed by God.”
“Doug has gods [sic] blessing! Good conquers evil!”
“Glory to God!”
“Incredible victory in Jesus!!!”
Carl Fogliani, a Pittsburgh-based Republican strategist, described Mastriano’s campaign as “like tea party plus Trump plus Grateful Dead all rolled into one.”
Christopher Nicholas, a longtime Harrisburg-based Republican consultant, called it “just a different vibe.”
A Republican familiar with the campaign, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly, told me, “He’s like Jim Jones in Guyana.”
If all goes well for Mastiano and all goes wrong for Democrats in November, Mastiano next year could be governor, overseeing one of the country’s most important states when the next presidential election is held in 2024.