Republican Party heavyweights in Pennsylvania are backing former Representative Lou Barletta in the state’s gubernatorial primaries in hopes he can outrun the favorite – far-right Doug Mastiano – who they think is doomed. lose in the general elections.
Those orchestrating an 11-hour push for Barletta, a longtime figure in state politics, say he is in the best position to defeat the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in the general election.
“He single-handedly stood out on the national stage when he fought illegal immigration in Hazleton and proved capable of winning over the Democrats, which means he will be a strong candidate who can defeat Josh Shapiro in November,” said the former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
As Tuesday’s primaries approach, Barletta’s support has grown. Not only have state and local elected officials joined him, but so have some of his primary Republican Party opponents.
On Thursday and Friday, two other Republican candidates in the race — State Senate President Jake Corman and former Representative Melissa Hart — withdrew to make way for Barletta.
“The stakes are very high, our Republican primary is very fractured and we need someone … who is a proven leader, who is unifying,” Hart said. “Someone who can get Democratic votes and who can lead as a person who has a vision and values that the people of Pennsylvania support.”
Support began to rally around Barletta after recent polls showed he was in second place behind Mastriano in the nine-person camp.
Mastriano, a state senator, has cultivated a far-right image that many believe will make him unacceptable to suburban voters, independents and Democrats who are disheartened by his party.
Mastriano not only led the charge against the COVID-19 lockdowns, but also pushed to cancel the 2020 Pennsylvania presidential election over allegations of voter fraud. The latter saw Mastriano organize the transport of protesters to Washington on January 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
“The Republican Party in Pennsylvania is petrified of Mastrian,” said G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow for political affairs at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. “They think he’s far-right and he can’t win, and after eight years as an incumbent Democratic governor, they’re tired of losing.”
Republicans concerned about Mastriano have a lot to be concerned about. Aside from a penchant for incendiary rhetoric, Mastriano has proven himself to be a mediocre fundraiser and polls show him struggling to outdo Shapiro in the state’s swinging counties.
Democrats only seem to validate these GOP concerns. Shapiro, who has no opposition in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries, has started spending big to bolster Mastiano.
Mr. Shapiro is bathing Mr. Mastrian with free airtime. In a statewide announcement ahead of the primaries, Shapiro’s campaign names Mastrinano as the closest Republican to former President Donald Trump. While the overall announcement is slightly negative, he invokes red meat issues to argue “that if Mastriano wins, it’s a victory for what Donald Trump stands for.”
“Both public and private polls indicate that Doug Mastriano is poised to become the Republican nominee on May 17 – and our campaign is poised to start the general election now and make sure Pennsylvania knows his real record,” said Will Simons. , spokesperson for Mr. The Shapiro campaign.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party is also working to increase Mastriano’s chances of becoming the Republican nominee. The party has paid for campaign mailings targeting Republican voters in recent days.
One of the senders calls the pair “two equals”, while another claims that “four years of Doug Mastriano would be four more years of Donald Trump”.
The campaign of Mr. Mastriano responded to requests for comment for this report.
Some Republicans say that nominating a candidate that Democrats are eager to run against is akin to political suicide. They say Barletta is the only clear alternative in the race with a chance of winning both the primaries and the general election.
“The only way we’re not going to be successful in the fall is if we nominate someone who can’t win,” Corman said.
Mr. Barletta does not disagree with the assessment. He says the race has always been a tie and that his campaign would benefit when Republican voters start looking seriously at who should be the next governor.
“I have a track record of beating Democrats, having been elected mayor in a strong Democratic city and beating a 26-year-old Democrat in Congress,” he said. “I am proven, road tested and ready to lead.”
Some question, however, whether they waited too long to support an alternative to Mr. Mastrian.
A Fox News poll released this week showed Mastriano leading the Republican race with 29% support and Barletta in second place with 17%.
Mr. Corman and Mrs. Hart, who have already withdrawn but will remain in the primary vote, won 9% of the combined vote.
Two other candidates, former attorney Bill McSwain and businessman Dave White, together drew nearly 30% of the vote. Both refused to drop out of the race, raising fears they could play the role of spoiler.
“It might be a little too late,” Madonna said. “While the momentum is changing in Barletta’s direction, it remains uncertain whether there is enough time left in the race.”
Political strategists say an endorsement from Trump, who has so far not weighed in on the race, could make a difference.