As governor, Mastriano would have the opportunity not only to speak, but to act. The Trump-backed 58-year-old, who won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday, would gain significant influence over the battleground state’s election administration if he prevails in November, worrying experts who already fear a democratic collapse around the 2024 presidential election. the contest.
Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as director of elections and must approve the results. If he or she refuses, chaos could follow.
“The biggest risk is that a secretary of state would just say, ‘I’m not going to certify the election, despite what the court says and what the evidence shows, because I’m worried about suspicion,'” said Clifford Levine, a Democratic election attorney in Pennsylvania. “You would start to have a breakdown in the legal system and the whole process.”
Mastriano’s supporters seem well aware of what is at stake. A video posted on Telegram by election denial activist Ivan Raiklin of Mastriano’s victory party on Tuesday showed the candidate smiling as Raiklin congratulated him on his victory and added, with a thumbs up, “20 electoral votes too,” a reference to state influence. in the electoral college.
“Oh yes, yes,” Mastriano responded.
Mastriano did not respond to a voicemail or email sent to a campaign media account.
But Mastriano told Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump adviser who now hosts a popular right-wing podcast, that he had already selected the person he would appoint as secretary of state if elected.
“As far as cleaning up the election, I mean, I’m in a good position as governor,” he said on the April 23 appearance on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “I have a person interested in electoral reform who has been traveling around the country and knows electoral reform very well. That individual has agreed to be my Secretary of State.”
He added that he planned to decertify voting machines in several Pennsylvania counties, a power given by state law to the secretary of state. “It’s going to be an important issue for me,” she said.
Buoyed by a belated endorsement from Trump on Saturday, Mastriano, a retired Army colonel and state senator first elected in 2019, defeated eight other candidates for the Republican nomination, including former congressman Lou Barletta.
A person familiar with Trump’s thinking said he decided to endorse Mastriano because he believed Mastriano was going to win on Tuesday and wanted to claim a victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday no matter what. “He was hedging his bets,” said this person. Like others interviewed for this report, they spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Other advisers argued that some of the candidates, like Barletta, had been more loyal to him over the years, but Trump dismissed the arguments.
Trump had at times been angry with Mastriano, two former aides said, because the state senator was unable to gain ground in helping Trump nullify the 2020 presidential election. But Mastriano stayed in touch with Trump and was willing to talk about it. of voter fraud when others wanted to move on, said two of these people.
Mastriano told Bannon on Saturday, shortly after Trump made his endorsement public, that he viewed the assent as “vindication.”
“President Trump is loyal to those who stand up for the truth and are trying to fight for electoral integrity in our state,” he said.
Mastriano was a key figure in Pennsylvania’s “Stop the Steal” movement, falsely arguing that President Biden’s 80,000-plus vote win in the state was the result of widespread fraud.
In the weeks after the November 2020 election, Mastriano hosted a public hearing in Gettysburg with then-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and helped commission an unofficial audit of voting machines in a rural Pennsylvania county that was funded. by Trump allies.
It was like this rogue thing: How the push by Trump allies to undermine the 2020 results through ballot reviews quietly started in Pennsylvania
Although state and federal courts rejected challenges to Biden’s victory, Mastriano proposed a resolution to declare the outcome of the state election in doubt and allow the Republican-controlled state legislature to nominate presidential electors. He told Bannon on Nov. 28, 2020, that the goal was “to reassert our authority to choose the electors for president.”
He asserted that the Pennsylvania General Assembly had “yielded to the popular vote” and insisted that the Constitution allowed the legislature to “reassert our privileges as a General Assembly and oversee the electors to go to the right person.”
Mastriano then traveled to Washington for the Trump rally on Jan. 6, 2021. Videos show him among a crowd moving toward the Capitol as another man removes a bike rack blocking the sidewalk. He said he respected police lines, left the area when it became clear the event was no longer peaceful, and did not enter the Capitol building.
The main Republican candidates in Pennsylvania were in Washington on January 6.
Since the 2020 election, Mastriano has proposed a series of measures in the Pennsylvania Senate that would dramatically reshape the state’s elections.
He proposed eliminating requirements that poll watchers live in the counties they are sent to watch and imposing new penalties on poll workers who block access to poll watchers. He has said he opposes any mail-in voting. And he has proposed a bill that would remove the secretary of state’s power to oversee elections and give it to a new election commission with members appointed by both the governor and the legislature, expanding the power of the General Assembly.
As the law now stands, Pennsylvania is one of three states in which the governor directly appoints the state’s top election official.
A crucial function performed by the governor himself is to sign the official certificate of electoral college votes, and it is not clear what recourse would be available if a governor refuses to do so. “It would be chaos,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former election administrator and partner at the consulting firm Elections Group. “We would be in the same precarious situation that we were in on January 6. “In Pennsylvania, operational decisions about conducting elections are made at the local level. The secretary of state can issue guidelines, but he has limited power to enforce them, which could be a check on an election denier’s ability to manipulate the system, Morrell said.
But he said an appointee who espouses electoral conspiracy theories could use the job to amplify claims that, even if not true, could erode public confidence in the system.
In an April gubernatorial debate, Mastriano said he would appoint a secretary of state who would require all voters in the state to renew their registration to be eligible to participate in future elections, a proposal experts say would likely violate federal law.
“I saw better elections in Afghanistan than in Pennsylvania,” Mastriano said.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, has noted that Mastriano’s rhetoric about the election and presence in DC on January 6, 2021 will be central to his argument that Mastriano is too extreme for the state. undecided.
“When Republicans in Harrisburg tried to undermine our elections, I took them to court to defend our democracy. My opponent allowed his attacks by standing idly by, and even attended the January 6 insurrection,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Although Trump can now add Mastriano to his prized tally of successful primary endorsements, the go-ahead came so late, and after Mastriano was already leading in the polls, that it was not considered decisive.
“Trump’s intervention jumped in front of the parade as it crossed the finish line,” said Matt Brouillette, executive director of Commonwealth Partners, a pro-business group that responded to Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano by asking other candidates to clear the field. and meet behind Barletta. “If Doug loses in November, Trump will actually own more than not.”
Some Republicans worry that Mastriano’s singular approach in 2020 could alienate voters who believe Biden’s victory was legitimate or who are more interested in looking to the future.
David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser, said Mastriano would have a hard time winning a general election in Pennsylvania. Urban said that Mastriano would have to moderate his post and that he wasn’t sure that was a likely possibility.
“In the general election, people have to moderate their message and come back to the center. If he does, he could be a viable candidate. If you don’t want to do that, you’re not going to be a viable candidate,” he said.
Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, agreed that Mastriano will have to reach beyond his base. During the primaries, Mastriano made his position on the 2020 election central to his speech. “That’s been his entire campaign,” Ball said.
But he said Mastriano will need to build a broader coalition and agenda to win in November. “It has to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans and everything else,” Ball said. “Given what we’ve seen so far, that will be a trick. You’re going to have to change your brand.”
Those who know Mastriano well say he is unlikely to back down on his promises to reform elections. State Representative Aaron Bernstine, a Mastriano ally in Harrisburg, said voters could expect Mastriano to govern as his campaign did.
“The things he talks about are the things he would try to do as governor,” Bernstine said. “I have always been of the basic opinion that when people tell you what they are going to do, believe them.”