‘Comes across as a cult man’: the Pennsylvania candidate who challenges both the left and the right

“Nobody wanted him,” said the Republican, granting anonymity to speak candidly.

But in the Republican primary, a staggering number of Republican voters did. Republicans had spent months reviewing internal polls that suggested Mastriano was on track to win 20 percent of the vote or less. He finished nearly 44 percent, doubling his closest competitor, former Rep. Lou Barletta, as he carried even more moderate Philadelphia and two of its counties, Bucks and Montgomery.

“It just broke its way,” said Joshua Novotney, a Republican lobbyist and former adviser to Sen. Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania. There was the first 20 percent or so, Novotney said — “people who wanted to rehashed 2020 … that was its core.” And then there was the rest. “The extra 20 or 23 percent he got later, I think these are people who are tired of it and didn’t want to hear the kind of mainstream song and dance. They don’t like what’s going on.”

When I asked Novotney if Mastriano could expand his support from 44 percent of a primary electorate to a majority vote in a general election, he paused. Maybe not in a normal year. But many veteran Republican and Democratic strategists assumed in early 2016 that Trump was also ineligible. He wore Pennsylvania that year. And between inflation and President Joe Biden’s dismal public approval ratings, a measure closely tied to a party’s performance in midterm elections, the electoral climate for Democrats this year is even worse than it was then.

“I’d say he’s not taking on Josh Shapiro,” Novotney said. “He’s going up against Joe Biden and anything is possible.”

Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist who ran for governor and ended up way back in the field, said Mastriano’s appeal “is pretty clear. It’s the people who are really mad at what’s going on in our country, our state, our society, our neighborhoods,” he said. “They’re angry that they have to pay five dollars a gallon for gas, that if they can find the groceries they want, they have to pay for it, and they don’t like what goes on in our schools. is happening, and they want change.”

Now that they’ve got Mastriano, he said, “I’m reminded of the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.'”

In rural Pennsylvania, where signs saying ‘Let’s Go Brandon’, ‘Fuck Biden’ and ‘Trump 2024’ fill the landscape, it seems possible. And on social media, where Mastriano developed much of his following — filming himself speaking to his supporters online — it seems like providence.

Sitting in front of an American flag, a ring 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 gets comments like these:

“We WILL take back our estate by God’s grace.”

“God is great.”

“He is appointed of God.”

“Doug has gods [sic] blessing! Good triumphs over evil!”

“Glory to God!”

“Incredible victory in Jesus!!!”

Carl Fogliani, a Republican strategist based in Pittsburgh, described Mastriano’s campaign as “like the tea party plus Trump plus the Grateful Dead all wrapped up in one.”

Christopher Nicholas, a longtime Republican consultant based in Harrisburg, called it “just a different atmosphere.”

A Republican familiar with the campaign, granted anonymity to speak candidly, told me, “He’s like Jim Jones in Guyana.”

If everything goes right for Mastriano in November and wrong for the Democrats, Mastriano could be governor around this time next year, overseeing one of the most crucial swing states in the country when the next presidential election is held, in 2024.

Leave a Comment