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Opinion: Republicans relieved that Mastriano won’t run for Senate

That loud sigh of relief you heard last week came from Pennsylvania Republicans when state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, said he will not run for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate next year.

His announcement was a pleasant surprise to state Republicans who feared that while Mastriano might win the primary, just as he had done in 2022 when he was the GOP standard-bearer for governor, he would again lose badly in the General Election, this time to incumbent Democrat Robert Casey Jr., 63, who appears to be unopposed for his party’s nomination as he seeks his fourth six-year term in the upper house.

Republicans feared that not only would Mastriano lose badly in November, but they were concerned that his unsuccessful candidacy could cost the Republicans Pennsylvania’s 17 electoral votes in the Presidential race. Pennsylvania is expected to once again be a critical state for both parties, especially in a close election, next year.

Republican concerns about Mastriano’s effects on down- ballot candidates is well placed, especially when they feel that his 15-point loss to Democrat Josh Shapiro in last year’s gubernatorial race also was a factor costing Dr. Mehmet Oz his loss to Democrat John Fetterman, who is now serving his first term in the U.S. Senate, and was a major factor in the Democrats’ winning control of the state House of Representatives in more than a decade, albeit by one seat.

Former President Donald Trump, whose eleventh hour endorsement of Mastriano last year did not go down easily for many GOP loyalists, especially former U.S. Rep. and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who was one of seven candidates in the 2022 Republican primary for governor. Barletta came in second with 20% of the vote, compared to Mastriano’s 44%.

Mastriano’s poor showing against Shapiro reflected on Trump’s selection, so much so that Trump has privately told his backers that he does not want Mastriano to run for Senate, and if he does he may not support him. “Trump’s not dumb,” said a top GOP donor who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about private deliberations. “He knows Mastriano will hurt him in Pennsylvania.”

Although Mastriano promised to support whoever wins the Republican nomination for Senate in ’24, he spent several minutes during his Facebook announcement bashing the Republican leadership for its lack of support for his candidacy last year.

With a loyal base despite last year’s loss, Mastriano insists that he and his wife, Rebbie, are going to be a force to be reckoned with in statewide politics for the foreseeable future. “We’re going to continue to grow our statewide network in every county,” Mastriano said.

Democrats were successful last year in labeling Mastriano as an “extreme” candidate, especially on issues such as abortion. They also pointed out that he was a prominent election denier, even to the point of sponsoring a trip to Washington, D.C., during the massive Trump “Stop the Steal” rally that culminated in the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

Mastriano’s decision appears to clear the way for David McCormick, who lost the Republican primary to Oz last year in the Senate primary by fewer than 1,000 votes. McCormick, who is promoting a new book, told supporters that he is seriously considering a second run for the Senate. The odds of his candidacy have improved greatly now that Mastriano has stepped aside. In a Franklin & Marshall statewide poll of Republicans in April, Mastriano was leading McCormick by 42% to 28%. In another poll, Casey led both candidates by comfortable margins.

Earlier last week, a garrulous Mastriano hinted strongly that he would make a big announcement in a few days. Most expected that this would be an announcement that he was going to run.

This touched off panic in Republican circles, according to my local sources. Most groused about it behind the scenes, some urging state and national leadership to pressure Mastriano not to run. State Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, took to Twitter in what he called an appeal to “all level-headed Pennsylvania Republicans” to join him in requesting that Mastriano abandon plans to run for the Senate in ’24. Diamond wrote that Mastriano’s “casual disregard for the truth” was a factor that led to his losing the 2022 gubernatorial race.

“Sen. Mastriano - whether you like him or you don’t like him - he’s been weighed, he’s been measured by the voters of Pennsylvania and he’s been found wanting,” Diamond said.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.