By WILL WEISSERT, MARC LEVY and GARY D. ROBERTSON
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Doug Mastriano, a state senator who secured a late endorsement from Donald Trump and has trumpeted the former president’s lies about nonexistent, widespread voter fraud costing him the 2020 election, won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania’s open governor’s office on Tuesday.
Mastriano’s victory boosts Trump’s winning record in major Republican primaries around the country. But it also raises immediate questions about whether Mastriano, who was outside the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 when a mob overran it in a deadly insurrection, can attract enough moderate swing voters to prevail in November’s general election.
Trump scored an easier victory early in the night when U.S. Rep. Ted Budd clinched the GOP nomination for Senate in North Carolina. Trump’s surprise endorsement last year lifted Budd, a little known congressman, over better-known rivals, including a former governor. He quickly pivoted to a general election message focused on breaking Democratic control of Washington.
“Under Joe Biden, America is woke and broke,” he said at a victory rally. “We need to put the brakes on this agenda for the sake of hardworking North Carolinians.”
Budd will face Democratic former state supreme court justice Cheri Beasley, who is aiming to become North Carolina’s first Black senator. She told supporters “this is our moment.”
“We have the power to restore our values to our government in Washington,” she said. “In this moment, we have the power to protect our rights.”
Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, will face Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was unopposed in his primary.
“They like to call people who stand on the Constitution far and extreme. I repudiate that. That is crap. That is absolutely not true,” Mastrano said. “Actually, their party … they’ve gone extreme.”
In another of the night’s closely watched races, John Fetterman, days after a stroke sent him to the hospital, easily won Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary — notching a major victory for his party’s left flank.
Fetterman’s opponent in the fall wasn’t yet clear as Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate contest was too early to call. Celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and commentator Kathy Barnette were all vying for the party’s nomination. Oz is the preferred candidate of Trump, who has sought to wield the power of his endorsement to lift his loyalists and reshape the GOP.
Tuesday marked the busiest night of the nascent primary season, with contests also being waged in Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho. Both parties are choosing candidates to enter the fall general election, when control of Congress, governor’s mansions and key elections posts are up for grabs.
Still, much of the attention was focused on Pennsylvania, a perennial political battleground that could decide control of the Senate.
The 52-year-old Fetterman is known for his hulking, 6-foot-8 stature frame, and tattoos that helped him build a political persona as an outsider. That, combined with his support of top progressive causes such as universal, government-funded health care, helped him easily dispatch Democratic rival U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a moderate in the mold of President Joe Biden.
“Fetterman’s victory shows that voters are fed up and want fighters. This should be a wake up call to the entire Democratic Party establishment to fight harder against the fascists and those who obstruct a popular agenda,” Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
Robert Sweeney, a 59-year-old resident of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Fetterman because “he seemed like a decent guy and knows what he’s doing.”
Fetterman, who is Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, could enter the general election campaign facing questions about his health. Following his stroke, he cast an emergency ballot from the hospital and tweeted Tuesday that he’d successfully undergone surgery to install a pacemaker. He said he was “on track for a full recovery.”
And Fetterman will likely face scrutiny over a 2013 incident when, shotgun in hand, he confronted a Black man because he suspected the man was involved in gunfire nearby. The man, Christopher Miyares, was unarmed and said in a TV interview that he had been jogging when Fetterman, who is white, pulled up in his pickup and pointed the shotgun at him. Fetterman has denied pointing the shotgun at Miyares and said it wasn’t loaded.
The Republican Senate campaign has proven even more divisive. Despite Trump’s backing, some conservative voters have been suspicious of the ideological leanings of Oz, who gained fame as a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Oz has spent much of the campaign in a heated fight with McCormick.
That’s allowed commentator Barnette to emerge in the final days of the primary as a conservative alternative to both Oz and McCormick. Should she win the primary and general election, Barnette would be the first Black Republican woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Trump, who has held campaign-style rallies with Oz, insists he is the best candidate to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands in the fall. Given his level of involvement in the race, a loss would be a notable setback for the former president.
Trump used the race’s final weekend to back Mastriano, but the state senator is seen as too extreme to woo moderates who are often decisive in general elections.
“There’s definitely some concern in large factions of the party,” said Pennsylvania Republican strategist Vince Galko.
More fundamentally, Tuesday’s primaries could test voters’ commitment to democratic principles. Barnette is running even further to the right than Oz and participated in the rally that turned into an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Mastriano, meanwhile, was also outside the Capitol during the mob attack and would appoint Pennsylvania’s chief elections official if he becomes governor. He has pledged to take the extraordinary step of requiring voters to “re-register” to vote — even though that’s barred by the National Voter Registration Act and likely violates significant protections under federal, and possibly state, law.
Mastriano also has been subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot following his efforts to name a slate of alternate Electoral College electors in Trump’s favor.
Stacy Steinly, a 51-year-old school bus assistant, cast her ballot in the town of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles west of Allentown. She said she chose Mastriano because “he was sticking by President Trump and saying that everything was fraudulent.”
“Everything he was talking about was making sense,” said Steinly, who wore a black T-shirt that said “Biden is not my president (or anyone else’s) based on legal votes.”
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.