Doug Mastriano is ‘praying’ about a Senate run
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Doug Mastriano lost the Pennsylvania governor’s race last year by double digits, an almost unheard-of shellacking in a battleground state where winners and losers are often separated by a single percentage point.
But another way to look at the election — the way the ultra-MAGA retired Army colonel-turned-state senator looks at it — is that he converted millions of voters to his cause and can now strategize, politically, about how to use them.
“What do you do with a movement of 2.2 million?” he told POLITICO on a recent day in his office in the state capitol. “We’re keeping it alive.”
In a sit-down interview, Mastriano, who rarely speaks with the mainstream media, made it clear that he is not finished with his quest to win higher office and transform the Republican Party along the way. He said he is “praying” about whether to go forward with a potential Senate run in 2024. After God, his wife, Rebbie, will have the final word he said.
“We’ve seen people in the past, other Republican gubernatorial candidates, they rise and they disappear when they lose. Why?” he asked. “You have people that love you and support you.”
If he pulls the trigger, Mastriano would run in a primary for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, an institutional figure in the state. Virtually no one in the Pennsylvania GOP establishment is eager for that matchup. But Mastriano said Casey is a letdown to the anti-abortion cause. Casey’s father, former Gov. Robert Casey Sr., signed abortion regulations into law that went all the way to a landmark Supreme Court case, where they were largely kept intact.
“I think he’s a huge disappointment. He’s nothing like his dad,” he said. “His dad was more pro-life than most Republicans.”
Until now, Mastriano’s future plans have been a mystery within political circles. He has few relationships with party leaders and eschews traditional consultants, leaving it all but impossible for GOP officials to know what he’s thinking. In that vacuum of information, rumors have been swirling that he might be eyeing a challenge against Republican Rep. John Joyce, whose seat is safely red. But he ruled that out: “Congressman Joyce and myself are friends.”
What Mastriano ultimately decides to do will illuminate just how chastened the most diehard supporters of former President Donald Trump are after the 2022 midterms. Usually, losses of that magnitude drive people out of electoral politics. But the last three federal elections have been discouraging for Republicans, and each time, they’ve shown little desire to course correct. Trump himself is campaigning again in 2024 and remains the frontrunner for the nomination. Whether the GOP finally does move on will be determined, in large part, by how Republican primary voters treat potential and declared candidates like him and Mastriano.
Inside Mastriano’s small legislative quarters, an anti-abortion protest sign sat in the corner. Wearing his trademark spurs and a 3rd Infantry Division ball cap, he said that his fans have been encouraging him to run for the Senate. But he was open about the fact that those encouraging him aren’t Republican dignitaries.
“It’s mostly supporters across the state,” he said. “Nobody with big names have come out and said, ‘Doug, you need to think about this.’ Just people like you and me.”
In fact, Mastriano’s flirtation with another statewide campaign is sure to give heart palpitations to GOP leaders. When a blue wave swept across Pennsylvania in 2022 — Democrats won the gubernatorial race, Senate race and a majority of state House contests — most Republican officials pointed the finger at Mastriano. His staunchly anti-abortion stance that allowed for no exceptions, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, and his appearance at the capitol the day of the Jan. 6 attack alarmed many swing voters.
After staying out of primaries last year, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm intends to get involved this time around. Party leaders at the national and state level have aggressively courted Dave McCormick, the former hedge fund CEO who narrowly lost the Senate primary in 2022, to run again against Casey. Though McCormick sought Trump’s endorsement and employed former Trump aides during his campaign, Republicans believe he has a mainstream appeal that would attract suburban voters.
Mastriano declined to weigh in on the possibility of a McCormick bid: “Unbelievably, I’ve never met him, so I’d hate to make a judgment on him without meeting him since he’s probably going to run.” He also speculated that there could be a number of Republican candidates who vie for the Senate next year, though he declined to name names: “I think I’ll have a few people also running that I know and like.”
As he considers what’s next, Mastriano is analyzing what went wrong in 2022, even showing a willingness to bend on certain political tactics that, last cycle, his party shunned.
Republicans, he said, “have to embrace no-excuse mail-in voting.” That they did not is the reason he thinks he lost. He said he knew during the campaign that it was going to cost him. “It’s just so — repugnant’s the wrong word — it’s just so antithetical to how I view elections,” he said.
Mastriano said he was sure he was going to beat now-Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro right up until Election Day. He didn’t buy the polls showing him down badly.
“Because I’d go to these rallies and people would say, ‘We’ve never seen this.’ In Josh Shapiro’s home county the night before the election, I had over 1,000 people — we stopped counting at 1,000. I saw no Shapiro signs in his own county,” he said. “Here I am in Montgomery County the night before the election, I’m like, we got this. The rally was just electric.”
Mastriano did not formally concede until five days after the election.
He acknowledged that taking on Casey could be a challenge.
“How do I beat the Casey name? ‘Mastriano’?” he said with a grin. “At least they know who I am now.”
In the meantime, Mastriano is taking steps to position himself for a possible run. He is holding a rally this Saturday in central Pennsylvania, which will feature Trump lawyer Christina Bobb and conservative media personality Wendy Bell as speakers. He led a hearing on the East Palestine train derailment over the border from the incident in western Pennsylvania, and he successfully pushed a committee he chairs to subpoena Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw to testify. He also hired Dan Cox, the unsuccessful Maryland gubernatorial nominee, as his chief-of-staff.
Toward the end of the interview, Mastriano said Cox was part of his “A team.” As it happens, Cox’s hiring is also a reason political insiders think he might want to run for higher office again.
“Hmm,” he said, laughing. “Gute erkennung. As the Germans say, ‘Good deduction.’”
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