(Bloomberg Government) -- Former President Donald Trump’s false claims about his 2020 defeat and proposals to shake up the way voting’s handled will be central issues this fall as swing-state Pennsylvania picks its next governor.
Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, the Trump-favored candidate in a nine-Republican field, wants to throw out existing voter registrations—all 8.7 million.
“I get to appoint the secretary of state, and that secretary of state is going to clean up the election logs,” the state senator and retired Army colonel said in a debate. “You’re going to have to re-register, we’re going to start all over again.” President Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by just over 1 percentage point. If the state once again plays a major role in deciding the presidency, the people put in place after this November’s election will be in charge of making sure all valid votes are counted and accurately reflected in the Electoral College.
Mastriano made a name for himself in Harrisburg by aggressively promoting Trump’s version of the 2020 election, including leading busloads of like-minded partisan to the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He has been subpoened by the congressional committee examining the events of that day that contributed to seven deaths and damage to the iconic building.
He’ll be taking on Democrat Josh Shapiro, the current state attorney general, in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf (D).
“The contrast in this election could not be clearer,” Shapiro said in an emailed statement. “Doug Mastriano wants to ban abortion without exceptions, restrict the right to vote and spread conspiracy theories, and destroy the union way of life for hard working Pennsylvanians.”
In an early taste of the rhetoric to come, Shapiro’s press statement referred to his opponent as a “dangerous extremist” and Mastriano told supporters, “They like to call people who stand on the Constitution far right and extreme. I repudiate that. That is crap.” He has proposed making registering to vote more convenient by automatically processing the enrollments when eligible apply for a driver’s license or state identification, as well as allowing voter registration on Election Day.
Pennsylvania has 4 million registered Democrats, 3.4 million registered Republicans and about 1.2 million who belong to neither major party. To prevail against Shapiro, Mastriano will need to appeal to more than the GOP voters who picked him in the primary. (With 95% counted, he had about 584,000 votes, according to The Associated Press.)
Mastriano has given Democrats the ammunition to argue that the presidency in 2024 is at stake in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election because the GOP nominee can’t be trusted to accept a legitimate election outcome, said Stephen Medvic, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College.
That could help Democrats, Medvic said.
“Their hope is that something about their opponent is disqualifying to the electorate—something about the opponent is just too extreme,” he said. “Even in a good Republican year, many swing voters just can’t go quite that far.”
In fact, Shapiro’s campaign already ran an ad singling out Mastriano, the beneficiary of a last-days Trump endorsement, for supporting “what Donald Trump stands for.”
Mastriano used his position in the state Senate to host a hearing with Trump’s lawyers, and he sought to emulate Arizona’s election audit before clashing with state Senate Republicans over how a legislative probe into Pennsylvania’s 2020 election should proceed (it’s now stalled in state court).
In addition to the enthusiasm for Trump’s unproven stolen-election claim, Mastriano’s campaigning as an opponent of abortion rights who wouldn’t allow exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. He argues that Wolf mismanaged the pandemic, and he’s said he wants to promote Pennsylvania’s energy industry.
Mastriano used his victory speech to mock Rachel Levine, who led Pennsylvania’s pandemic response and now is assistant secretary of health for the US Department of Health and Human Services and admiral of the US Public Service Health Corps.
“Woman of the year,” he scoffed, to which someone in the crowd responded, “Man of the year.” Levine is transgender.
Mastriano went on to promise to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports teams, referencing a national championship won by a transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer. “Follow the science. We will!” he said to laughter from the crowd. “On Day One, you can only use the bathroom that your biology and anatomy says.”
Shapiro sought to appeal to parents with a promise to end “reliance on standardized tests” and give every school a mental health counselor.
He also promised to lower taxes, put more police on the streets, and “make sure Pennsylvanians just don’t get screwed anymore — because for too long, powerful institutions have gotten away with taking advantage of the people.”
Mastriano might not have to care that his message doesn’t resonate with suburban voters, especially women put off by his refusal to allow exceptions for abortion, said Alison Dagnes, a Shippensburg University political scientist and author of several books on political media.
“Mastriano’s learned that not that many people are going to fact check you,” she said. “He touches on the things that a lot of people, especially voters in central Pennsylvania, are really upset about—some for good reasons, or for some, reasons that they’ve been given that may not be true but sort of feel true.”
Could He Do It?
Mastriano’s most drastic campaign proposals wouldn’t be easy to implement, said Samuel Chen, a GOP political strategist who’s worked for former US Rep. Charlie Dent and US Sen. Pat Toomey.
The legislature’s Republican majority may not want to ignore the thirst for more voting options that led to a bipartisan 2019 state law expanding voting by mail, and “any attempt to reverse it by executive order, I think, faces a legal challenge that has good standing,” Chen said.
He also could have a hard time getting Republicans to agree to interfere with a court’s decision about an election law, Chen said, because of the separation of powers.
“There’s a lot of them who might like the idea in general, but they’re going to consider how many of their voters in their districts vote by mail, and I think they’re going to shy away from that,” he said.
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