Republicans urge voters to reject Doug Mastriano

Julian Routh
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — A political committee with connections to the Never Trump movement and to a high-profile neoconservative will dip into Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, “playing heavily” — its political director said — to convince college-educated suburban voters to buck Republican Doug Mastriano.

The Republican Accountability PAC is putting $2 million behind a campaign in Pennsylvania to convince voters — those who may have broken with Donald Trump in 2020, especially — that they should do the same with Mastriano, the GOP state senator who is up against Democrat Josh Shapiro in the November election.

The effort from the Washington-based committee is taking the name “Republican Voters Against Mastriano,” and went up with a six-figure TV ad campaign this week across the commonwealth that features personal testimonies from Republican voters who say Mastriano is unfit to govern and too extreme.

The movement: The PAC exists in a network of organizations, messengers and think tanks that sprouted after Trump’s victory in 2016, which

united a number of conservatives who decried the direction that their party was headed.

The movement’s groups are funded, many times, by deep-pocketed philanthropists and longtime political activists from both parties, and are criticized by the mainstream GOP — allegiant to Trump — as faux conservatives who are out of touch with the base.

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a campaign rally in May in Warminster, Bucks County.

This PAC frames itself as a frontline fighter against “anti-democracy candidates” across the country, and insists that “Trump loyalists in today’s GOP must be held accountable,” according to the main text on its website.

Gunner Ramer, political director for the Republican Accountability PAC, said there are many conservatives who believe today’s GOP is incredibly extreme and no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. The PAC is hoping to reach them to ensure they don’t back Mastriano, who, if he wins, will have the power to appoint a secretary of the commonwealth who will oversee the administration of the 2024 election, Ramer noted.

“We are going to be playing heavily in this state,” Ramer said, deeming Mastriano a “clear threat to our democracy” who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

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Mastriano could not be reached for comment pertaining to this story, but his allies in recent days have deemed the Republicans who are bucking Mastriano “RINOs,” or Republicans In Name Only who are relics of the GOP’s past.

The PAC has played a role in several GOP primary victories, including Brad Raffensperger’s win over the Trump-backed candidate, Jody Hice, in the Georgia secretary of state race, according to The New York Times.

Symbols of courage: It’s also mounted advertising campaigns to thank the GOP representatives and senators who went against their party to impeach Trump, and it considers U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey one of its symbols of “courage” for — among other things — condemning Trump for his role in inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The PAC’s two main leaders are Sarah Longwell, its executive director, and Bill Kristol, the chairman of its board who is also a prominent neoconservative and longtime power-broker in the conservative think tank space.

Longwell was profiled in “The New Yorker” in 2020. The article deemed her a lifelong conservative and Never Trumper who grew up in Central Pennsylvania, worked in conservative circles for years and used her connections to organize Republicans around opposing Trump.

Longwell told The New York Times recently that Republicans have been hoping to win back the center-right voters they alienated with Trump, but the GOP in Pennsylvania nominated a “radical extremist” who will turn off moderates. She also told the outlet that to jump into a state race, there’s got to be a quality Democratic nominee who’s more of a moderate than a progressive.

Asked if the group’s messaging will prop up Shapiro with its spending, Ramer said the effort is about opposing Mastriano. Some will support the Democrat, he said, while others just won’t vote for the Republican. To this end, they’ll use testimony from GOP voters in the state, he added.

“Voters who resemble college-educated suburban moderates — who sort of feel politically homeless — are really good messengers with like-minded individuals,” Ramer said.

On the accusations against Never Trump groups that they’re simply RINOs out of touch with the base, Ramer said Republicans pride themselves on standing for the Constitution — and there’s nothing less constitutional than undermining a free and fair election.

Funding: The committee raised $3.8 million in February and March, according to the newest federal campaign finance records that are available. Its donors included Kathyrn Murdoch, the climate change activist and and wife of James Murdoch, the son of News Corp. co-founder Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has said she’d mobilize $100 million in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles to reshape U.S. democracy, according to The New York Times. She gave $1 million to the PAC on March 10.

Sam Rawlings Walton, the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, donated $500,000 to the PAC in March. He was a heavy backer of former President Barack Obama, according to media reports.

Shapiro, the current Pennsylvania attorney general, rolled out endorsements from a group of Republicans himself last week. The list included two former U.S. representatives, Charlie Dent and Jim Greenwood; former state House Speaker Denny O’Brien; former Lt. Gov. and longtime state Sen. Robert Jubelirer; and former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman.

Mastriano didn’t respond to Post-Gazette inquiries about these endorsements, but he shared a link on Facebook last week to a video stream in which two conservatives, Val Finnell and Joe Sterns, hit back against the Republicans. In the video, they labeled the GOP officials relics of the past and RINOs, and said Mastriano — like Trump — doesn’t need them to win.