Could Shapiro, Mastriano race foreshadow politics in 2024?
The contrast between the candidates for governor — Josh Shapiro, the polished pragmatist, and Doug Mastriano, the conservative firebrand — has never been as drastic in the history of modern Pennsylvania politics, political analysts and insiders say, pointing out that the election result could make the state even more of a battleground come 2024.
The list of their policy differences is long, but it's not just the issues that separate Mr. Shapiro, the sitting attorney general, and Mr. Mastriano, a state senator. It's the way they've run their campaigns, analysts say, ahead of the November midterms.
Whoever wins could teach his party a thing or two about what it takes to carry Pennsylvania.
"There's so much you can do with the bully pulpit of the governorship," said Rick Saccone, a former Republican state representative and Mastriano backer who recently ran for lieutenant governor. "It will help the presidential race. It will help all of the down-ballot candidates if we have a good, strong governor that's a Republican."
Recent polling by USA Today tested the waters on many of the top 2024 presidential contenders and asked respondents to list issues most important to them. They cited inflation and increasing costs, crime, immigration, gun violence and abortion, among others — and one by one, Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Mastriano represent a binary option.
Long gone are gubernatorial contests of the likes of Tom Corbett v. Dan Onorato and Ed Rendell v. Mike Fisher, races that were largely decided on often-minor policy differences. In the contest that Mr. Corbett won in 2010, the last televised debate centered around a bill in the state House eliminating property taxes and replacing the lost funds with the state sales tax — which both candidates found a bit of synchrony on, at times.
Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Mastriano are polar opposites, though it's a bit asymmetrical because Mr. Mastriano is "so unique" that pairing him with any other candidate — even a Republican — would create a pretty sizable contrast.
The two contenders are miles apart on rhetoric, how they approach the necessity of intra-party relationships and how they craft their messages to the public, Mr. Borick said.
Jim Schultz, a Philadelphia lawyer who served in former President Donald Trump's administration and was general counsel to Mr. Corbett from 2011 to 2014, said the dynamic has changed since Mr. Corbett left office, as politics have become more polarized. That's consistent with what's happening across the U.S, he said.
"I believe that, unfortunately, politicians like Tom Ridge, Tom Corbett and others of that generation would have a very difficult time being elected in GOP primaries today," said Mr. Schultz, who is not backing Mr. Mastriano.
"A premium is not placed upon actually accomplishing goals by getting votes on both sides of the aisle — which is a necessary thing in swing states like Pennsylvania, where there is divided government," he said.
Both parties could learn a thing or two based on the November results, especially in a state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 and President Joe Biden won back in 2020.
Contenders have taken notice, especially on the Republican side: Mr. Trump and potential 2024 candidate Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, both have stumped for Mr. Mastriano, recognizing that he is well-connected to their type of base. Mr. Trump will hold a tele-rally with Mr. Mastriano on Tuesday.
Mr. Saccone, of Elizabeth Township, said whoever wins will boost his party's chances in 2024 here, but added that for Mr. Mastriano, it's only if he follows through on his promises. Mr. Saccone noted that the GOP had a government trifecta — the governor's office and control of both chambers of the Legislature — under Mr. Corbett, but said they failed to deliver on many key agenda items.
Republicans "have a history of riding the wave and then not carrying through," Mr. Saccone said, adding that the GOP base hopes it'll be different this time. Mr. Saccone touted Mr. Mastriano's policy goals of eliminating the property tax, putting an end to mask and vaccine mandates, and clamping down on crime.
Democrat Jay Costa, of Forest Hills, the minority leader of the state Senate, said he's never seen a greater contrast between gubernatorial candidates, and hypothesized that Mr. Corbett would "be a moderate among the Republicans" today.
He also said the winner's party will have a head start to 2024, and worries that if Mr. Mastriano pulls it off or comes close, the GOP will continue to build on its momentum.
"We have to stifle the momentum," Mr. Costa said, noting that Republicans turned out and elected two relatively unknowns in statewide elections in 2020 for auditor general and treasurer, Stacy Garrity and Timothy DeFoor, respectively.
Mr. Costa said that if Republicans win the governor's office and keep their current majorities in the state House and Senate, it would result in major changes in how Pennsylvania runs its elections, approaches the environment and deals with women's reproductive rights.
And reproductive rights just might be the major issue, Mr. Borick said. No matter what, Pennsylvania will experience a significant policy impact on the issue post-2022 as national GOP leaders consider abortion bans of their own.
"There's going to be a tangible impact," Mr. Borick said, "and that tangible impact will be well in the mix of 2024 politics in the state. It's going to be front and center."
Mr. Mastriano, who has labeled abortion "the single most important issue in our lifetime," has said he supports a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake.
Mr. Shapiro has said he supports current Pennsylvania law and would veto any effort to restrict abortion beyond it.
"What Pennsylvania law says is that up to 23 weeks, a woman can make a decision to have an abortion," Mr. Shapiro said on CNN earlier this year. "I continue to support that. And from week 24 on, if her life or health is at risk, in consultation with her doctor, she can have an abortion."
Mr. Saccone said Democrats are "demagouging" the issue of abortion and are well aware that the governor can only sign laws the Legislature passes. Legislators, not a governor, can act on the issue, Mr. Saccone said.
But the governor — especially if he is a member of the same party as the legislative majority — can play a key role in guiding the policy agenda and can have a large influence on the caucus. Mr. Shapiro has said the veto pen is the "only thing standing in the way of Harrisburg Republicans' attempts to ban abortion."
To Mr. Saccone, the election is a referendum on the party in power and comes down to one question:
"Do you want to live under the way we've been living for the past couple years under the Biden administration and the last eight years under [current Democratic Gov. Tom] Wolf? Do you want to go through that again?"
A spokesman for the Shapiro campaign said that while Mr. Shapiro is focused on such things as cutting taxes, investing in apprenticeships and fully funding schools, Mr. Mastriano is focused on things like banning abortion with no exceptions.
"The contrast could not be more clear, and we will continue traveling across the Commonwealth and bringing Democrats, Republicans and Independents together to win this race and build a better future for all Pennsylvanians," spokesman Will Simons said.
Mr. Mastriano's campaign could not be reached for comment for this story.