HARRISBURG, Pa. — 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. The state’s closely watched GOP Senate primary was essentially a tie between the Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.
Mastriano’s victory boosts Trump’s winning record in major Republican primaries. But it could move the governor’s office out of the GOP’s reach if Mastriano, who was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob overran it in a deadly insurrection, fails to win over the moderate voters who often swing Pennsylvania’s elections.
If he were to win in the fall, he would shape how elections are conducted in one of the top battlegrounds in American politics. Pennsylvania governors appoint the secretary of state, who oversees how elections are run.
Speaking to his supporters, Mastriano rejected the notion that he is tied to extremism.
“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.”
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.
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. Oz, a celebrity heart surgeon, and McCormick, who resigned in January as the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world, were in an exceptionally tight race. Commentator Kathy Barnette, who appeared to be gaining late momentum, was trailing.
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.
Elsewhere, a setback for Trump came when North Carolina Republican incumbent Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who was dogged by a series of high-profile blunders, lost to state Sen. Chuck Edwards. Trump posted this week that Cawthorn “made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again” and added, “let’s give Madison a second chance!”
Trump-endorsed candidates have won most Republican primaries around the U.S., but the former president’s record is not perfect. Last week, Trump’s choice for Nebraska governor, Charles Herbster, lost to traditional GOP establishment choice Jim Pillen.
Some conservative voters, meanwhile, were suspicious of the ideological leanings of Oz, the surgeon, who gained fame as a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Oz has spent much of the campaign in a bitter and heated fight with McCormick.
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.