Mastriano critics become Mastriano boosters while avoiding the name Mastriano

Chris Brennan and Julia Terruso
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

The pair of television commercials sound alarms about inflation, with one pinning the blame on state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor in Pennsylvania.

The other ad features state Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso, who says she's "running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket."

Both ads urge viewers to "vote the Republican ticket."

Can you spot what's missing? Or, rather, who?

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is the name that shall not be spoken in the ads, paid for by Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a political action committee run by a conservative firm in Harrisburg.

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The Philly Clout team can guess why. And we have to, since Matt Brouillette, who runs the firm Commonwealth Partners, did not directly answer when asked why the ads make no mention of Mastriano.

Commonwealth spent $13 million in the Republican primary, trying to prevent Mastriano from becoming the nominee, supporting first former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain and later former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta in television ads. The firm also sent primary voters mailers warning, "We can't trust Doug Mastriano."

"Months ago, Commonwealth Partners began cautioning of the dangers of nominating Doug Mastriano, as he would not be able to win the swing voters necessary to win in November," Brouillette said just before the May primary.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, gestures as he speaks at a primary night election gathering in Chambersburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 17, 2022, with his wife, Rebbeca. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mastriano, who easily won the crowded primary, has dismissed the firm as "RINOs" — Republicans in name only — funded by "sugar daddies." That's a reference to Commonwealth's most generous donor — and Pennsylvania's richest man — Main Line billionaire Jeff Yass.

Mastriano could use Commonwealth's help. The most recent campaign-finance reports, from early June, showed Shapiro with more than $13 million in the bank while Mastriano had just $400,000. Expensive television commercials are crucial to winning statewide in Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth has $9.2 million in network and cable television time booked from now until the Nov. 8 general election. So the firm that spent millions failing to stop Mastriano appears ready to spend millions trying to help him.

All without mentioning his name.

Mastriano, who mostly limits campaign communications to fawning radio and podcast hosts, did not respond to Clout's hails.

DelRosso also dodged questions about why she did not mention her running mate in the ad, responding with an email full of standard campaign rhetoric that — you guessed it — did not mention Mastriano.

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Brouilette, who also did not explain why he left Mastriano's name out of his ads, emailed to blame Shapiro and President Joe Biden for inflation, COVID-19 precautions and violent crime. Again, without saying Mastriano's name, Brouilette said: "The answer is to vote Republican in November."

Sanders and Fetterman keep their distance

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be in Philadelphia this weekend rallying with labor leaders at Independence Hall. One of his last notable Philly visits was in 2018 to endorse John Fetterman for lieutenant governor.

But Sanders won't be stumping this time for Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

"We only get involved in campaigns where people think that we can be of help to them," Sanders said. "We have not heard from John, and I have not talked to John for a couple years."

Sanders said a Fetterman victory would help the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, adding, "I know he will be a very strong voice for working families."

That distance makes sense as a political tactic.

Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz has repeatedly resurrected quotes and pictures from Fetterman and Sanders to paint Fetterman as too liberal for Pennsylvania.

Mehmet Oz, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, steps off the stage during a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Fetterman, while endorsing Sanders for president in 2016, said: "What Bernie wants to do for the U.S., I want to do here in Pennsylvania."

But in his Senate race, trying to appeal to moderate voters across the state, Fetterman hasn't invoked Sanders once. He declined the title "progressive" in an interview weeks before the primary, calling himself "just a Democrat."

Sanders didn't comment on Oz using the onetime association as a line of attack.

"John is running his campaign in Pennsylvania," Sanders said. "And seems to be doing a pretty good job so far."

Welcome, carpetbaggers!

Fetterman has been relentless about casting Oz as a New Jersey mansion-living carpetbagger who only moved to Pennsylvania to run for office.

But those attacks came first from Republicans, in the months before Oz won the primary in May.

Members of the audience sing songs of worship during State Sen. Doug Mastriano's, R-Franklin, the Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania primary night election celebration in Chambersburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/ Carolyn Kaster)

Tom Knox, the wealthy Philadelphia businessman who ran for mayor as a Democrat in 2007, launched a super PAC in January that raised and spent about $450,000 to push that message. That was an effort to help local attorney George Bochetto's Republican bid for the Senate.

Knox will host a fundraiser at his home next month for Oz.

The draw: Nikki Haley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations.

Bochetto is one of the hosts, along with Main Line real estate investor Jeff Bartos, now a co-chair of Oz's campaign. Bochetto and Bartos drove the carpetbagger accusation most frequently during the primary.

Knox now compares political carpetbaggers to New Jersey commuters who come to the Philadelphia region to work during the day and then head back across the Delaware River to go home.

"What are we going to do? Throw them all out? Tell them they can't come over?" Knox asked. "I don't think carpetbaggers are all that bad."

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power and politics.