Political strategies

Pennsylvania GOP hopefuls have different campaign strategies

MALVERN, Pa. — On a chilly Saturday morning in mid-October, state and national Republican Party leaders descended on a hotel terrace restaurant in the hugely important suburb of Philadelphia to energize Loyalists before the next month’s election that features an awkwardly adjusted pair at the top of the Pennsylvania ticket.

After citing what they said were the Democrats’ failures, party officials introduced the keynote speaker: Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Senate nominee against Democrat John Fetterman in a race that could decide control of the chamber and the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

“I’m excited to take the doctor’s name off and let’s make sure he’s a senator,” Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, told the crowd.

Nowhere in sight — and not even mentioned — was Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee against Democrat Josh Shapiro.

Oz, the heart surgeon turned TV celebrity, and Mastriano have national political winds behind them. But they run radically different campaigns and target two very different types of voters – in a way that may hinder, rather than help, the other.

That dynamic complicates the Republican path to victory in Pennsylvania on Nov. 8, strategists say, and forces the GOP into a difficult balancing act in which the two men rarely appear together.

Party strategists said it makes sense to avoid Mastriano because he trails Shapiro in the polls and leads a far-right campaign that hunts the moderate voters Oz will need to beat Fetterman, the lieutenant governor.

Ryan Costello, a former Republican congressman who once represented that part of Chester County, said if he ran for office and was invited to a party, “I would ask if Mastriano was coming and if they said ‘yes.’ , I would do anything else. It’s horrible.

GOP officials did not respond to questions about Mastriano.

The momentum isn’t lost on Fetterman, who continually links Oz with Mastriano. In their Tuesday night debate, Fetterman interrupted Oz’s response to a question about abortion to claim that “you ride with Doug Mastriano!”

The next day, Mastriano mentioned that line in a stump speech in Lancaster County, and laughed it off – “I like that: let’s ride together.” But he didn’t mention Oz, only Fetterman.

Like Mastriano, Oz was endorsed by Trump. But unlike Mastriano, Oz has not been warmly welcomed by Trump’s most loyal voters — those who form Mastriano’s far-right base.

Mastriano went hard after the Trump bloc, sprinkling conspiracy theories about transgender youth into more traditional GOP talking points on crime and inflation while refusing to take questions from independent and mainstream news outlets. But that message, along with his general opposition to abortion, his peddling of Trump campaign lies and his presence outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, alienated moderates and GOP donors.

“It’s like he’s still running a primary campaign,” Republican campaign strategist Bob Salera said. “He’s not going anywhere. He does not speak to any group of people who are already not going to vote for him in the general election.

It does not invite the media to its events. He does not send a message beyond his base.

Oz, meanwhile, emphasizes national GOP talking points on crime and inflation, in an attempt to persuade swing voters and even Democrats. He has campaigned with GOP figures including Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey, whom Oz hopes to succeed.

Mastriano has campaigned with far-right figures including propagandists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, election deniers, self-proclaimed prophets and Christian nationalists such as Michael Flynn, who once ran the Army’s intelligence agency American and is now at the center of a far-right Christian nationalist movement.

Toomey did not endorse Mastriano.

Mastriano was scheduled to speak at Flynn’s two-day ReAwaken America conference last weekend in Mannheim, but skipped it without explanation. More recently, he campaigned with propagandist Jack Posobiec, perhaps best known for peddling the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which suggested Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring at a pizzeria.

“That’s who he surrounds himself with: white supremacists, extremists,” Shapiro, a two-term attorney general, said in an interview. “He is the only candidate in the country actively recruiting white supremacists on Gab to be part of his campaign. So that shouldn’t surprise us. He’s the guy who wore the Confederate uniform on the grounds of the Army War College. It’s who he is.

Fetterman and Shapiro have no such problems appearing together. They show up at the same big party events and union rallies, like one 30 miles away in Philadelphia where they threw an arm around each other and assaulted the cameras of rally attendees.

Mastriano can still help Oz, strategists say, by getting the party base to come out and vote for Oz. But Oz will have to attract moderate Republicans in places like Chester County even if they refuse to support Mastriano, Costello said.

“And if he does, that’s where Oz wins,” Costello said.

Mike Mikus, a Democratic political strategist, said that kind of balance can work, but Mastriano doesn’t have the campaign money to reach grassroots GOP supporters who might not vote in an election. mid-term.

Those voters are critical to motivating if the GOP is to win, Mikus said.

“There’s going to be a high turnout,” Mikus said. “But there will be people who stay home because Oz can’t motivate them, and Mastriano would be able to motivate them, but doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to send them back.”

Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: twitter.com/timelywriter.

Follow AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap-politics

See https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the midterm issues and factors at play.