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Trump weighs in on Pa.’s governor’s race and makes his pick known

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And the endorsement is in.

Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the race for Pennsylvania’s open governor’s seat on Saturday and chose to back Republican gubernatorial frontrunner and his strongest ally in the now seven-person race, Doug Mastriano.

In a statement, Trump said about the far-right conservative state senator from Franklin County: “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for election integrity than state Senator Doug Mastriano.

“He has revealed the Deceit, Corruption, and outright Theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, and will do something about it. He will also Fight Violent Crime, Strengthen our Borders, Protect Life, Defend our under-siege Second Amendment, and Help our Military and our Vets. He 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.”

Mastriano said in a statement that receiving Trump’s backing is an honor.

“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,” he said.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to select their party’s nominees for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, congressional and legislative seats along with state party committee members.

Earlier, Trump announced Mehmet Oz as his pick to win the party’s nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Pat Toomey is vacating.

“Doug Mastriano and Dr. Mehmet Oz will make an unbeatable team going into the most important Midterm Election in the history of our Country,” Trump said in his statement. “They will Fight, they will Win, and they will Produce for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and for the USA itself. I have fully Endorsed Dr. Oz, and now it is my great honor to give my Complete and Total Endorsement to a man who will never let you down, Doug Mastriano for Governor of Pennsylvania!”

Oz appearing to be in a dead-heat with rivals David McCormick and Kathy Barnette for the nomination in the Senate race could be a factor behind Trump’s decision to endorse Mastriano who appears to be in the driver’s seat in the GOP primary gubernatorial race, said Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick.

“The former president likes to pick winners and this might be an opportunity to do so and at the same time offer support for someone who’s been incredibly supportive of his concerns. It seems like a logical fit,” Borick said. “In the Senate race, he didn’t endorse someone who might be the most natural fit and could end up being an embarrassment for him. Maybe this is a bit of a hedge.”

Trump’s endorsement comes on the heels of state Republican Party insiders’ efforts to encourage the other candidates in the race for the nomination to coalesce around an alternative to Mastriano. They fear Mastriano will be unable to beat presumptive Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro in the November general election and destroy their desire to return the governor’s office to Republican hands after the eight years it has been held by term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

On Thursday, Republican candidate Jake Corman dropped out of the race and threw his support behind fellow GOP contender Lou Barletta. On Friday, another GOP candidate Melissa Hart followed suit and endorsed Barletta. Five of the other six candidates in the race who were able to be reached indicated their intention to stay in the race. Candidate Joe Gale did not respond to a request for comment.

Barletta, who was an early and consistent supporter of Trump when he first ran for president in 2016, said on Friday that he didn’t know if a Trump endorsement would be coming this weekend.

“I’ve learned never to speak for the former president,” Barletta said with a laugh. He added: “No matter what happens people know me. They know who I am. They know where I stand on issues important to them and that’s what I’m going to talk about.”

Mastriano said his and Trump’s grassroot supporters are “committed to ending the era of party bosses, dark money interest groups, and flawed elections. It’s time for Pennsylvanians to unite, with the support of President Trump, and focus on defeating Josh Shapiro so we can revive our economy, achieve energy independence, lower taxes, restore law and order, and reform our failing education system.”

Longtime Pennsylvania political observer G. Terry Madonna said Trump’s endorsement comes as no surprise and may mitigate whatever advantage Barletta gained from having Corman and Hart get behind his candidacy.

“No one epitomizes Trump more than Mastriano,” he said. “Mastriano owes his lead to the most loyal of Trump supporters. That’s his base. This will only reinforce it among the Trumpites.”

Meanwhile, a state Democratic Party spokeswoman Marisa Nahem issued a sharply worded statement about Trump’s choice for governor, calling Mastriano “the most extreme and dangerous Republican candidate” in the race.

“Everyone knows it — including Donald Trump, who was forced to bow to the fringes of his party once it became clear Mastriano would be their nominee,” Nahem said. “It’s clear that in this case Donald Trump is the caboose not the engine. Trump has emboldened the most extreme and dangerous elements in the Republican Party, and he did that once again by endorsing Mastriano, who crossed police lines on January 6th and participated in the insurrection, led the push for a sham ‘audit’ in Pennsylvania, and wants to completely ban abortion without exceptions.”

She further vowed that state Democrats will do all they can to keep Mastriano out of the governor’s office.

An hour after Trump issued a statement about his endorsement decision, Shapiro’s campaign put out an email asking for contributions to help build up his campaign coffers that already hold more money than any other candidate in the race with about $20 million.

The email said, “I know this is big news, but we knew from the start this would be a challenging, competitive race. In fact, it’s probably the biggest fight I’ve taken on yet — but I won’t ever back down. I beat Trump’s efforts to undermine our democracy in court, and I’m ready to beat his endorsed candidate at the ballot box.”

Shapiro last week began running an ad that highlights aspects of Mastriano’s platform including his desire to “outlaw abortion” and end mail-in voting.

The ad also notes that Mastriano was the first to lead the fight to audit the 2020 presidential election in hopes of overturning the results to declare Trump the winner instead of President Joe Biden, who won by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania. They claimed the mail-in voting system was rife with fraud. A number of lawsuits filed over that election’s results were tossed out by the state and federal courts.

“If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for,” the Shapiro ad concludes. “Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?”

Jan Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@pennlive.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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