As governor, Mastriano would have the ability not just to speak, but to act. The Trump-endorsed 58-year-old, who won the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, would gain significant influence over the battleground state’s election administration if he wins in November , worrying experts who already fear a democratic breakdown around the 2024 presidential contest.
These concerns are made particularly acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual power to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief electoral officer and must approve the results. If he refuses, chaos could ensue.
“The biggest risk is for a secretary of state to just say, ‘I’m not going to certify the election, despite what the court says and despite what the evidence shows, because I’m concerned about the suspicions’” said Clifford Levine, a Democratic election attorney in Pennsylvania. “You would start to have a breakdown in the legal system and the whole process.”
Mastriano’s supporters seem well aware of the stakes. A video posted on Telegram by Holocaust denier activist Ivan Raiklin of Mastriano’s Victory Party on Tuesday showed the candidate smiling as Raiklin congratulated him on his victory and added, with a thumbs up, “20 electoral votes as well”, a reference to the influence of the state. in the electoral college.
“Oh yeahhhh,” Mastriano replied.
Mastriano did not respond to a voicemail or email sent to a media campaign account.
But Mastriano told Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump adviser who now hosts a popular right-wing podcast, that he had already selected who he would appoint as secretary of state if elected.
“As far as election cleanup goes, I mean, I’m in a good position as governor,” he said during the April 23 appearance on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “I have a person who cares about voting reform who has traveled the country and is extremely knowledgeable about voting reform. This individual has agreed to be my secretary of state.
He added that he plans to decertify voting machines in several Pennsylvania counties, a power granted under state law to the secretary of state. “It will be a major problem for me,” he said.
Buoyed by Trump’s belated endorsement on Saturday, Mastriano, a retired Army colonel and first-time elected state senator in 2019, beat out eight other candidates for the Republican nomination, including the former member of the Lou Barletta Congress.
A person familiar with Trump’s thinking said he decided to endorse Mastriano because he thought Mastriano was going to win on Tuesday and wanted to claim a win in Pennsylvania on Tuesday no matter what. “He was hedging his bets,” this person said. Like others interviewed for this report, they spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Other advisers argued that some of the candidates, like Barletta, had been more loyal to him over the years, but Trump dismissed the arguments.
At times, Trump had grown annoyed with Mastriano, two former advisers said, because the state senator was unable to gain traction to help Trump cancel the 2020 presidential election. But Mastriano is stayed in touch with Trump and was willing to speak up about the voter fraud issue when others wanted to move on, two of those people said.
Mastriano told Bannon on Saturday, shortly after Trump went public with his support, that he considered the nod a “vindication.”
“President Trump is loyal to those who stand for the truth and try to fight for the integrity of the vote in our state,” he said.
Mastriano was a key figure in Pennsylvania’s “Stop the Steal” movement, falsely claiming that President Biden’s victory of more than 80,000 votes in the state was the result of widespread fraud.
In the weeks following the November 2020 election, Mastriano hosted a public hearing in Gettysburg with then-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and helped commission an unofficial audit of voting machines in a rural Pennsylvania county. funded by Trump allies.
It was like that ‘rogue thing’: How Trump allies’ push to undermine 2020 results through ballot reviews started quietly in Pennsylvania
Although challenges to Biden’s victory were thrown out in state and federal courts, Mastriano proposed a resolution to declare the outcome of the state election uncertain and allow the state legislature controlled by Republicans to nominate presidential voters. He told Bannon on Nov. 28, 2020, the goal was “to reassert our authority to choose voters for president.”
He claimed that the Pennsylvania General Assembly had “surrendered to the popular vote” and insisted that the Constitution allowed the Legislature to “reaffirm our privileges as a General Assembly and ensure that the voters are talking to the right person”.
Mastriano then traveled to Washington for the rally on behalf of Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. Videos show him among a crowd heading toward the Capitol as another man removes a bike rack blocking the sidewalk. He said he obeyed police lines, left the area when it became clear the event was no longer peaceful, and did not enter the Capitol building.
The main GOP candidates in Pennsylvania were in Washington on January 6
Since the 2020 election, Mastriano has proposed a series of measures in the Pennsylvania Senate that would dramatically alter the state’s elections.
He proposed removing requirements that poll watchers live in the counties they are sent to observe and imposing new penalties on election workers who block access to poll watchers. He said he was opposed to any postal vote. And he proposed a bill that would take the power to oversee elections away from the secretary of state and give it to a new elections commission made up of members appointed by both the governor and the legislature, thereby expanding the power of the General Assembly.
As the law currently stands, Pennsylvania is one of three states where the governor directly appoints the state’s top election official.
A crucial function that the governor performs himself is to sign the official Electoral College vote certificate, and it is unclear what recourse there would be if a governor refused to do so. “It would be chaos,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former election administrator and partner at consulting firm Elections Group. “We would be in the same precarious situation that we found ourselves in on January 6. “In Pennsylvania, operational decisions about holding elections are made at the local level. The secretary of state can issue directives but has limited power to enforce them, which could hamper an election denier’s ability to manipulate the system, Morrell said.
But she said an appointee who espouses election conspiracy theories could use the post to amplify claims that, even if untrue, can erode public confidence in the system.
During a gubernatorial debate in April, Mastriano said he would appoint a secretary of state who would require all voters in the state to renew their registration to be able to participate in future elections, a proposal that according to the experts, would likely violate federal law.
“I’ve seen better elections in Afghanistan than in Pennsylvania,” Mastriano said.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, signaled that Mastriano’s rhetoric about being elected and attending DC on January 6, 2021 will be central to his argument that Mastriano is too extreme to the swing state.
“When Harrisburg Republicans sought to undermine our election, I took them to court to defend our democracy. My adversary allowed their attacks by standing idly by and even witnessed the January 6 uprising,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Although Trump can now add Mastriano to his prized tally of successful primary endorsements, the nod came so late, and after Mastriano was already ahead in the polls, that he was not considered decisive.
“Trump’s intervention was jumping ahead of the parade as he crossed the finish line,” said Matt Brouillette, CEO of Commonwealth Partners, a pro-business group that responded to Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano by calling other candidates to clear the field. and rally behind Barletta. “If Doug loses in November, Trump will actually own more than not.”
Some Republicans worry that Mastriano’s singular focus on 2020 could discourage voters who think Biden’s victory was legitimate or who are otherwise more interested in looking to the future.
David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser, said Mastriano would struggle to win a general election in Pennsylvania. Urban said Mastriano should tone down his post and he wasn’t sure that was a likely possibility.
“In the general election, people have to tone down their message and come back to the middle. If he does that, he might be a viable candidate. If he doesn’t want to do that, he won’t be a viable candidate,” he said.
Washington County GOP Chairman Dave Ball agreed that Mastriano will have to reach out beyond his base. During the primary, Mastriano made his position on the 2020 election central to his speech. “It’s been his whole campaign,” Ball said.
But he said Mastriano will need to build a broader coalition and program to win in November. “He has to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans and everything else,” Ball said. “Given what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a thing. He’s going to have to rebrand himself.
Those familiar with Mastriano say he is unlikely to back down from his promises to reform elections. State Representative Aaron Bernstine, an ally of Mastriano in Harrisburg, said voters can expect Mastriano to govern as he campaigned.
“The things he talks about are the things he would intend to do as governor,” Bernstine said. “I’ve always been of the opinion that when people tell you what they’re going to do, believe them.”