Doug Mastriano, a central figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 Pennsylvania election, won the Republican primary for governor on Tuesday, turning the general election into a democracy referendum in the place where the American representative government was born.
The Associated Press declared Mr. Mastriano, a retired Army colonel and two-term senator, the winner over a crowded field of Republican candidates. In the closing days of the campaign, his opponents made a failed last-minute attempt to consolidate support around a rival, former Representative Lou Barletta.
In his short time in public office, Mr. Mastriano, 58, has emerged as Pennsylvania’s leading far-right figure.
He funded buses to take supporters to the rally on January 6, 2021, which preceded the attack on the Capitol. During his appointment as governor, he barred the news media from attending his campaign events and appeared with proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Mastriano proposed a public registration of people who had tested positive for the virus, but later campaigned against wearing masks and vaccines.
On Saturday, after public and private polls showed Mr Mastriano had a significant lead over Mr Barletta and the rest of the Republican field, Mr Trump backed him, citing his fight to undo the election.
“We’re going to win on May 17,” Mr. Mastriano said at a rally last week in Erie, Pa. “And to quote a friend of ours, it’s going to be huge.”
In Pennsylvania, the Republican primary for governor played second fiddle to the state Senate race, which poured in a lot more money. Only one of the candidates for governor, Bill McSwain, a former US attorney, had enough money to run television commercials in the final weeks of the campaign.
Mr Mastriano, Mr Barletta and the others struggled for limited attention from the news media.
Mr. Trump’s late support of Mr. Mastriano infuriated some of the former president’s early supporters in Pennsylvania. Former Representative Tom Marino, who hobbled across the state with Mr. Barletta for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, condemned the endorsement at an event for Mr. Barletta on Saturday.
“Where the hell is the loyalty?” Mr Marino said:† “I am very disappointed in the president, the former president. Because apparently loyalty doesn’t go as far as he says his loyalty goes.”
If Mr. Mastriano won the November general election, he would have tremendous power over how the 2024 Pennsylvania presidential election will be conducted. The governor appoints the secretary of state, who oversees the elections of the state. Mr Mastriano has already said he would try to decertify the 2020 results in the state.
Democrats nominated Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, who has been planning a campaign for governor for years. Mr. Shapiro ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primaries, Mr. Shapiro’s campaign ran ads across Pennsylvania that read, “If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for,” a not-so-subtle attempt to his Mr. Mastriano’s financially struggling campaign among Republican primary voters. Officials from both parties in Pennsylvania believe that Mr. Mastriano would be the weakest possible opponent against Mr. Shapiro in the general election.
Nick Corasanitic reporting contributed.