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Doug Mastriano adviser Jenna Ellis questions Josh Shapiro's faith — 'at best a secular Jew'

Chris Brennan
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Attorney Jenna Ellis speaking during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, 2020. Ellis, a former member of former President Donald Trump's legal team, now advises Doug Mastriano's campaign for governor in Pennsylvania. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — Jenna Ellis, the senior legal adviser to Doug Mastriano's Republican bid for Pennsylvania, serves in that role primarily to stir his deeply conservative base and to agitate controversy on social media.Ellis was at it again Friday afternoon, tweeting criticism of a Washington Post story that focused on the Jewish faith of the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

"Josh Shapiro is at best a secular Jew in the same way Joe Biden is a secular Catholic," tweeted Ellis to her 887,000 followers, calling both Democrats "extremists" on abortion and transgender issues.

She added: "Doug Mastriano is for wholesome family values and freedom."

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The pushback was swift, driven in part by Mastriano's previous working relationship with the social media platform Gab, which is rife with antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.

Shapiro's campaign called the tweet "hateful, divisive rhetoric" and used it to again cast Mastriano as too extreme for elected office.

The controversy accentuates the very different ways the two candidates approach religion in political settings.

Mastriano, an evangelical Christian, weaves talk of his religion into just about every campaign stop and ends many interviews with right-wing broadcasters by saying "Bless you."

Shapiro, an observant Jew, uses a lighter touch. When he speaks of Judaism, it centers on what that faith teaches about service to others. His campaign's first biographical television ad in April noted that he always gets home for Shabbat dinner on Friday and he has spoken about his faith in a few news stories.

Ellis previously served as a lawyer for former President Donald Trump's failed effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, based on a series of debunked fraud claims. She joined Mastriano's campaign in June after campaigning for him for months before the May primary.

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She did not respond to a request for comment but spent the hours after her tweet defending it. She dismissed the controversy she created in one tweet this way: "It's a clown world attempt to distract from the real issue: Shapiro's extreme policy positions."

This is not the first time Ellis has gone looking for trouble on Twitter and found it. She picked a fight with her own party last month, tweeting criticism of the Republican Governors Association's lack of financial support for Mastriano's campaign.

"The Republican Governors Association would rather see an insane extremist Democrat win in Pennsylvania than have a Republican they can't control," she tweeted, including the phone number and email address for an RGA staffer.

Ellis apparently reconsidered that opinion, which was deleted from her Twitter feed.

Mastriano has stirred his own controversy on the campaign trail, infusing his pitch to voters with the language of Christian nationalism and appearing before the primary at a QAnon event. He is scheduled to be the final speaker Saturday at a similar event in Lancaster County.

Shapiro this week launched a new television ad, calling Mastriano "an important part" of the QAnon movement, labeling that a "fringe right-wing group peddling dangerous conspiracy theories.

Mastriano has drawn attention for the way he speaks about Shapiro's high school, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, calling it a "privileged, exclusive elite school" and suggesting students there are taught to "disdain" others. Critics saw that as dabbling in antisemitism.

But it is the $5,000 Mastriano paid Gab in April for political consulting that has most consistently dogged his campaign. New Gab accounts were automatically assigned to follow Mastriano's account and the site's founder, Andrew Torba, endorsed him and conducted an interview.

Mastriano praised Torba, saying: "Thank God for what you've done."

The condemnation came from all sides — the Republican Jewish Coalition demanded that Mastriano abandon Gab, the Anti-Defamation League said his politics "teeter on the edge of the kind of extremism."

Mastriano, who rarely relents, deleted his Gab account in late July and said "I reject antisemitism in any form," Still, he blamed the controversy on Democrats and media organizations who reported about it.

Trailing Shapiro in money and polling, Mastriano last month announced in a Facebook post "40 days of fasting and prayer" for his campaign and supporters, citing a Bible verse from the Book of Isaiah.