State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and former state Rep. Rick Saccone at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21 (Facebook photo)
(*This story was updated at 10:38 a.m. to include comment from Republican governor candidate Lou Barletta. It was updated again at 11:20 am to include comment from Sen. Doug Mastriano.)
Former President Donald Trump has endorsed state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Frankin, in Pennsylvania’s high-stakes primary for governor, dealing a potentially fatal blow to establishment Republicans who had hoped to head off a victory by the far-right politician who has trafficked in false claims of election fraud.
“There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” Trump said in a statement he released on Saturday morning.
Mastriano is “a fighter like few others, and has been with me right from the beginning, and now I have an obligation to be with him,” Trump added.
In a statement, Mastriano thanked Trump for his support, saying he was honored by it.
But ‘the honor is not for me. It’s for the millions of hard-working Pennsylvanians who want their individual liberties restored, power returned to the people, and for their elected leaders to fulfill the America First — and Pennsylvania First — agenda,” Mastriano said.
Mastriano leaped to statewide prominence in 2020, emerging as a prominent voice of the anti-shutdown movement, where he led protests against Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic management policies.
In the days after the 2020 election, he openly questioned President Joe Biden’s legitimacy, and was photographed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Mastriano bused supporters to the rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection, and has denied participating in the riot, but video has shown him closer to the building than he has claimed to be. He has since been subpoenaed by the U.S. House committee investigating the deadly day.
Mastriano, a former U.S. Army colonel, has held a steady lead in most pre-election polls. A May 9 Trafalgar Group poll of 1,000 voters showed Mastriano taking 27.6 percent of GOP voters’ support. Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, followed in second place at 17.6 percent. Former Delaware County Councilmember David White finished third at 15.1 percent, while former Trump-appointed federal prosecutor William McSwain, of Philadelphia finished fourth at 14.4 percent.
Republicans have tried to coalesce around Barletta in the race’s closing days, with two candidates, Pennsylvania state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, of Allegheny County, each dropping their candidacy to endorse the former Hazleton mayor.
At a news conference in Harrisburg on Thursday, Barletta, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, stayed away from directly attacking Mastriano, who similarly commands a huge following among Trump-friendly Republicans.
In a statement on Saturday, Barletta said he “look[ed] forward to having President Trump’s endorsement Wednesday morning,” the day after the election, NBC News reported.
“Throughout this campaign I have proved that I’m the best Republican to unite the Republican Party and defeat Josh Shapiro, and I will continue unifying our grassroots conservatives towards our shared goal,” Barletta said. “I will continue making the case to the people that I am the only candidate who can unite the party and bring victory in November. I
Trump earlier endorsed television physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is locked in a statistical dead heat with hedge fund millionaire David McCormick and conservative influencer Kathy Barnette, who mounted a late surge to break into the top tier of candidates.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is on Tuesday, May 17.
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