© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano speaks at a protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Rachel Wisni
By James Oliphant and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After far-right candidate Doug Mastriano won the Republican primary for Pennsylvania governor, Democrats quickly warned voters that he poses a threat to abortion access, voting rights and election integrity should he win in November.
Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general and the Democratic nominee for governor, called Mastriano the most extreme gubernatorial candidate in the country.
The Republican supports abortion bans with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. He has proposed restrictions on mail-in voting and eliminating ballot drop boxes, and he backs former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest.
Shapiro’s campaign said it had raised about $200,000 since the polls closed in the Republican primary on Tuesday night, and the Democratic candidate asked for more donations on Wednesday.
Democrats view the Pennsylvania governor’s race as one of the most critical contests in the country. The current governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, has blocked measures from the Republican-controlled state legislature that would limit abortion and voting rights.
Some Republicans in Pennsylvania are also alarmed by Mastriano, who marched in Washington before the Jan. 6, 2021 siege of the U.S. Capitol. They said they fear Mastriano is all but unelectable and could drag down the party’s entire state ticket with him.
“We are going to lose state house and state senate races,” said Val Biancaniello, a Republican state committee member from Philadelphia’s suburbs. “It is very difficult for someone like me to rally behind Doug Mastriano, who is going to get his butt kicked in November because he is a far-right extremist.”
Mastriano, who was endorsed by Trump the weekend before the primary, disputed that he is a far-right candidate.
“I repudiate that,” he said in his victory speech on Tuesday. “That is crap.”
ABORTION, VOTING RIGHTS AT PLAY
As voters worry about inflation, the coronavirus pandemic and crime, Democrats are looking to leverage the battle over abortion rights to boost turnout among women and young voters, including independents and some Republicans.
Shapiro has vowed to veto any abortion restrictions that come before him as governor.
Mastriano, a state senator, has proposed a so-called “heartbeat” bill that would ban abortions after six weeks. He recently called abortion “genocide.”
The Pennsylvania legislature has introduced a bill that would prevent the state Supreme Court from declaring abortion a right if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade precedent and sends the issue of legalization back to individual states.
“With our fundamental rights on the line, we must work harder than ever to ensure that an anti-choice extremist like Doug Mastriano never holds the governor’s office,” said Ally Boguhn, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Mastriano also has championed Trump’s stolen election claims, proposing a state audit of the 2020 results.
A retired Army colonel, Mastriano was seen outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters breached the building. He has said he peacefully participated in a pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally that day but left before the siege.
Some influential Republicans in the state, such as Sam DeMarco, a Republican Party committee chair in Pittsburgh, warned ahead of the primary that Mastriano was unelectable, pointing to survey research that predicted swing voters would shift to Shapiro in large numbers if Mastriano won the nomination.
Analysts say Shapiro, a candidate who has won statewide and went unchallenged in the Democratic primary, has the edge in the race. Heading into the primary, Mastriano had about $800,000 in his campaign account, while Shapiro was sitting on a war chest of more than $18 million.
Mastriano “needs to start showing how he’s going to appeal to moderate Republicans and independent voters,” said Charlie O’Neil, a veteran of Republican campaigns in Pennsylvania. “You don’t win Pennsylvania by winning the Republican base.”