A QAnon-Loving Election Denier Just Won Pennsylvania’s GOP Governor Primary

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano could wreak havoc on Pennsylvania's election system in the next presidential race if he wins this fall.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano gives a victory speech at his election-night party on May 17, 2022 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano gives a victory speech at his election-night party on May 17, 2022 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by Michael M. Santiago /Getty Images)

Doug Mastriano did everything he could to interfere with Pennsylvania’s election system in 2020. Now, he’s one election away from being in charge of the country’s largest swing state during the next presidential election.

Mastriano, a state senator, easily won his primary for governor on Tuesday night, with 44% of the primary vote. His next-closest rival, former Rep. Lou Barletta, received 20% of the vote.

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His win sets up an existentially important November election against Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was uncontested in the Democratic primary. Mastriano has based his entire campaign around pushing the big lie about the 2020 election. If he wins in November, he’ll have the power to appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state and make major changes to the state’s voting laws. That could lead to an election crisis in the swing state whose results may well determine the next president. 

Mastriano has pledged to “reset” Pennsylvania’s election rolls and force everyone in the state to “have to re-register” to vote—a move that would sow utter chaos (and likely violate federal election law).

Mastriano was barely known outside the state capitol before 2020—and regarded as a back-bench kook by his colleagues in both parties. But he rocketed to rightwing stardom by trumpeting false claims that President Joe Biden’s 82,000-vote win in Pennsylvania was rigged, worked to try to block Biden’s election win from being certified, attempting to get the legislature to toss out Biden’s win and name Trump winner of Pennsylvania. He later pushed for an audit of the state’s elections. 

He was in Washington, D.C. on January 6, and though he claimed that he didn’t “go beyond police lines,” Mastriano was captured on video walking toward the Capitol moments after rioters dismantled the original police line.

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Those efforts got him on Trump’s radar and made him a hero on the far right. The former president made a last-minute endorsement of Mastriano last weekend, picking a shoe-in winner once it was clear that Mastriano would be the nominee.

Mastriano also has close links with QAnon, and his win makes him the most prominent QAnon-aligned candidate to win a GOP primary so far. He regularly used the hashtags #QAnon and #thegreatawakening, and just weeks ago spoke at a QAnon conference, where he argued that America is a Christian nation, mocked what he called “this myth of the separation of church and state,” and promised the audience that he and they are “taking our country back.”

Mastriano is involved in a coalition of QAnon-aligned candidates running for elected positions that would put them in control of state election systems. 

One of Mastriano’s campaign staffers who blocked reporters from a Mastriano/Barnette campaign event over the weekend was on the Capitol grounds that day too—and there’s video and photo evidence he got even closer.

As NBC News first reported, Mastriano’s staffer was just feet away as rioters surged through a shattered door into the Capitol building, and later stood by laughing as others smashed up cameras and other media equipment.

Democrats have made it clear, however, that they wanted Mastriano to win the primary, and see him as their easiest opponent. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who won his primary Tuesday to face Mastriano, ran a TV ad that called Mastriano “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters” and highlighted Mastriano’s fight to audit the 2020 Pennsylvania election. His campaign spent more than $800,000 on the spot—double Mastriano’s total TV ad spending in the primary.

Mastriano is unquestionably a problematic candidate. Democrats are already highlighting his statehouse bill to ban abortion with no exceptions for cases of rape and incest, as well as his comments about cutting state education funding

Establishment Republicans  aren’t thrilled about Mastriano’s win, either. A last-minute push to stop Mastriano by rallying around Barletta fell flat on its face. The Republican Governors’ Association has yet to reserve airtime in Pennsylvania, unlike many other swing states with governor’s races on the ballot this year, and sources tell VICE News that the organization is much less likely to spend significant resources in the state if Mastriano is the nominee.

And they may be right: A recent poll conducted by Pennsylvania-based Republican firm Osage Research found that Shapiro led Mastriano by 49%-41%, when a generic Republican would lead the governor’s race by a three-point margin.

But President Biden is so unpopular right now that Democrats could lose just about any swing-state contest, no matter their opponents’ flaws. And if Mastriano pulls this race off, the 2024 elections could be at risk.