Trump endorses Mastiano for governor of Pennsylvania

“He has revealed the deception, corruption and outright theft of the 2020 presidential election and will do something about it. He will also fight violent crime, strengthen our borders, protect life, defend our Second Amendment under siege, and help our military and veterinarians. He’s a fighter like few others, and he’s been with me from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him,” Trump continued.

Mastriano – who also has ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory – was already leading the polls in the fractured primaries, despite being well spent on TV by candidates such as former US Attorney Bill McSwain and businessman David White.

Trump called Mastriano on Friday to inform him of his decision to endorse, according to a person familiar with the call.

But the decision came after a backlash from some of Trump’s closest advisers and allies, including Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Trump was skeptical of Mastriano, according to another familiar person, but was impressed by his lead in the polls and focus on the 2020 election.

“I am honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement today. But the honor is not for me. It is for the millions of workers in Pennsylvania who want their individual liberties restored, power returned to the people, and their elected leaders fulfill the America First – and Pennsylvania First – agenda,” Mastiano said in a statement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro has encouraged Mastriano’s candidacy in ads, believing he is the easiest Republican to beat in a general election. “Shapiro has just become the next governor and I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way,” said a top adviser to the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Leading Republicans this week mounted a last-ditch effort to stop Mastriano from winning the party’s nomination in the May 17 primaries. But these efforts apparently failed. Some former candidates who voted in single digits dropped out and endorsed former Representative Lou Barletta in recent days, including State Senate President Jake Corman. But the division at the top of the field, combined with Trump’s new endorsement of Mastiano, is likely to doom that effort.

“At the end of the day, a Trump endorsement might earn you a few points and that might be all you need. [in a crowded primary]. A point or two can make all the difference for a candidate who is on the home stretch,” Brian Nutt, a Republican strategist in Pennsylvania, said earlier this month.

Trump’s endorsement of Mastiano could also complicate the state’s Senate primaries. Trump launched his support for Mehmet Oz, known as “Dr. Oz” in another crowded field. But Mastriano aligned himself with Kathy Barnette, another far-right candidate who also rose in the polls. Barnette and Mastiano often campaign together and endorse each other.

Barnette, Oz and hedge funder Dave McCormick topped recent polls in the Senate primaries, while Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman appears to be on track to defeat the congressman. Conor lamb and others in the Democratic primaries.

Some Republicans close to the former president argued that Trump’s support for Mastiano could backfire by hurting Oz. “People have been telling the president for a while, and he’s not protecting his investment in Oz” in the governor’s race, said another Republican close to Trump.

Craig Howie contributed to this report.

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