Doug Mastriano yet to concede Pa. governor’s race

Stephen Caruso, Angela Couloumbis, Kate Huangpu and Katie Meyer
of Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — Republican Doug Mastriano has yet to concede Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election nearly two days after it was called for Democrat Josh Shapiro despite members of his own party calling for him to do so.

The race wasn’t close.

The Associated Press declared Shapiro the winner just after midnight Wednesday, with 80% of the votes counted. The AP calls races when it has determined that there is no mathematical path for trailing candidates to win from the ballots left to count.

With most votes counted by Thursday, unofficial returns show Shapiro having beat Mastriano by 14 points — the biggest gubernatorial margin in an open race since the 1940s. The Democrat’s victory also marks the first time since the 1950s that one party has won three consecutive gubernatorial terms in Pennsylvania.

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Mastriano’s silence on the outcome so far has been notable given his history of false statements regarding the integrity of the 2020 election. Among other things, Mastriano bussed supporters to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, as former President Donald Trump tried to overturn the legitimate outcome of the presidential race won by President Joe Biden.

On election night, Mastriano struck both defiant and conciliatory tones. In an address at 10 p.m., he told supporters that “we’re going to take this fight all the way to Harrisburg” and that “this movement is unstoppable.”

Doug Mastriano takes the stage with his wife Rebbie at his election night watch party in Camp Hill.

Later, in his last public remarks before the election was called, he told the crowd of the results: “What the people of Pennsylvania said, we will of course respect that.”

Since, Mastriano has been radio silent — save a few cryptic posts to social media. One featured a photo of himself on horseback with the caption “saddle up.” Another included a photo of himself and his wife in front of a body of water and a sunset.

His campaign did not return a request for comment.

Republican operatives and elected officials said Mastriano’s silence doesn’t mean any sort of credible challenge to the results is coming. Jason High, a senior associate at former GOP Gov. Tom Ridge’s government relations firm, told Spotlight PA on Thursday that “anyone in Republican circles — everyone knows it’s over.”

State Rep. John Hershey (R., Juniata), who lost his primary this year and will not be in office next year, said he’s already received constituent calls complaining that the election was stolen.

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, the state's attorney general, attends an election night event, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Oaks, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Mastriano’s statement on election night that he would respect the will of the people, Hershey said, “is at odds with his current behavior.” Hershey also criticized the “saddle up” social media post as “inappropriate given the events of the past couple years.”

“It places confusion in the minds of voters and only stirs up angry feelings,” Hershey said.

Dwight D. Weidman, the former chair of the Republican Party in Mastriano’s home county of Franklin, said he too believes it is time for Mastriano to concede.

“The gap is so large, he doesn’t have a pathway forward to victory,” said Weidman. “He needs to just put it behind him and lick his wounds. And maybe it’s time for a little introspection by Doug and the party, to see where we go from here.”

There was talk among lawmakers, legislative staff, and lobbyists on the eve of the election of an obscure constitutional measure that allows the General Assembly to review a gubernatorial election, according to sources familiar with the strategy. But the appetite to attempt such a move inside and outside the Capitol appears negligible given the results.

Even Jenna Ellis, who served as Mastriano’s senior legal advisor and managed Trump’s doomed attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, has thrown cold water on the idea of contesting Mastriano’s loss.

“There isn’t this kind of concern like we had in 2020,” she said on her podcast Wednesday when talking about disappointing GOP results in the midterm. “We can’t just say, ‘Oh my gosh, everything is stolen.’ I mean that’s ridiculous for this election.”

Still, High said the lack of concession is still damaging.

He managed Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner’s campaign in 2018, and though that contest was intense — at one point Wagner threatened to stomp Gov. Tom Wolf’s face with golf spikes — Wagner quickly called Wolf to concede when returns showed the Democrat with an unbeatable lead.

“I think it’s important to concede, acknowledge the campaign’s over, and particularly signal to your supporters that you’re going to move on,” High said. “It’s important for the process. It’s important for democracy.”

Yet Mastriano’s actions were also anticipated by many, both in and out of his party.

Throughout his campaign, Mastriano continued to promote unfounded claims of election fraud. He called mail ballots and the anticipated slow pace of counting them evidence of wrongdoing and reasons to question the validity of election results. Just a week before the election, his campaign sent out a fundraising email with the subject line: “The fix is in (2020 all over again),” criticizing “delays” in the vote-counting process.

The day before the election, Pennsylvania’s four living governors sent a letter to the two major gubernatorial candidates urging them to accept the results of the election.

Speaking to reporters the Friday before the election, Shapiro said he expected Mastriano to not accept the results.

“This is a guy who was part of the violent mob on Jan. 6 to stop our votes from being counted,” Shapiro said. “He’s already told us what he wants to do in 2024 by decertifying voting machines.”

Shapiro added that he had faith in county election officials across the state and that he would “respect the outcome of the election and the will of the people.”

Mastriano’s supporters expressed hope on election night that, regardless of the outcome, his political career was not over.

“I’m a Christian. I know God has this regardless,” Michelle Loughery, a 55-year-old campaign volunteer from Jim Thorpe, told Spotlight PA. “If he doesn’t win, it wasn’t meant to be.”

She added: “If he wants to run again in four years, I am behind him.”

Other Republicans also mused that Mastriano’s career — or the careers of other conservative populists like him — aren’t over. But they’re not happy about it.

High, the former campaign manager for Wagner, said he thinks candidates like Mastriano can’t win statewide, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop getting on ballots.

“The problem is, I think this is where the Republican Party primary voters are,” High said. “I don’t know how you move on from it.”

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