Category Archives: 2022 Election

Shapiro for Governor: He Could Be Our First Jewish President. But First He Needs to Beat a Far Right Christian Nationalist in PA

Shapiro doesn’t think of himself as a moderate or establishment Democrat, the terms journalists often use to describe him. Instead, he calls himself a “populist.”

Devoutly Jewish, Josh Shapiro wants to persuade voters that his opponent’s Christian nationalism doesn’t represent the values of the state.

By Holly Otterbein
Politico

Sept 14, 2022 – PHILADELPHIA — In one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest big cities in the country, blocks away from where a woman was gunned down just the day before, Josh Shapiro is singing with a group of Black pastors.

Shapiro, a type-A attorney general running to be the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, rocks in his pew. When a reverend asks the churchgoers to lift up their voices, he looks her in the eye and finishes her sentence, pronouncing “me” when she croons, “What God has for me, it is for me.” He then proceeds to give a 30-minute speech that was supposed to be closer to half as long.

Unlike some before him, Josh Shapiro hasn’t downplayed his religion out of a fear of appearing different. To the contrary, he’s made his faith — and fighting anti-Semitism — a central part of his political persona.

“I want you to know that being up here on the pulpit means a lot to me — and it is a place where I feel comfortable,” says Shapiro. “I feel comfortable here because this is a place of spirituality, this is a place of purpose.”

Shapiro, 49, who describes himself as a Conservative Jew from the Philadelphia suburbs, talks about being raised to bring faith “out in the community and make a difference.” He refers to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the spiritual icons who forged a friendship during the civil rights movement. He quotes from an ancient collection of Jewish teachings: “No one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it.”

The battle for governor in Pennsylvania is one of the most consequential races in the country: It could determine whether women have the right to an abortion and all voters have the right to cast a ballot in a pivotal battleground state. Shapiro’s Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, led the movement in the state to overturn Joe Biden’s election and opposes abortion with no exceptions.

Mastriano, a state senator who is widely seen as the archetype of the rise of Christian nationalism in the GOP, is courting MAGA-aligned Evangelicals and other conservative Christians. Though he rejects that label, he has said the separation of church and state is a “myth.” Mastriano also has ties to antisemites, and this week he used an antisemitic trope, portraying Shapiro as out of touch with everyday Pennsylvanians for attending what he called “one of the most privileged schools in the nation,” a Jewish private school.

Shapiro’s response has not been to decry the entry of religion into the race; in some ways, he has amplified it. He says he doesn’t want to tell anyone “what to believe.” (“I’ll be a governor that relies on my faith and my upbringing to actually look out for everybody,” Shapiro says. “And I think he’s the exact opposite.”) But he refuses to cede Pennsylvania’s churches to his opponent. Instead, he deliberately highlights his religiosity to appeal to Christians and people of other faiths who might feel alienated by Mastriano’s brand of religion-tinged conservatism.

If Shapiro can fend off the far-right firebrand, he would catapult into the position of one of the most prominent Jewish elected officials in the country — and be talked about within political circles as a future presidential or vice-presidential candidate. And he’d do it by being a new kind of Jewish politician. Unlike some before him, Shapiro hasn’t downplayed his religion out of a fear of appearing different. To the contrary, he’s made his faith — and fighting antisemitism — a central part of his political persona.

“People are looking for someone who has strong faith. It almost doesn’t matter what denomination it is,” says former Democratic governor Ed Rendell.

Shapiro sees his Judaism as a tool to bond with people, not as something that sets him apart. On this sun-drenched September morning in Philadelphia, at least, his strategy seems to be working.

Speaking to the dozen powerful pastors of nearby AME churches, all of whom could help him turn out critical Black voters in November, Rev. Dr. Janet Jenkins Sturdivant says Shapiro is “not a perfect man.” But he is a “man of God — and all we need is someone who will listen to God.”

Josh Shapiro in a Quiet Rage

“NO good jews.” “America jews themselves are a cancer on any society.” “I hope no one votes Jew.”

The frothing messages from users of Gab, a far-right social media network, flash on the screen. A narrator explains that Mastriano’s campaign paid the website, the same one where Robert Bowers posted antisemitic screeds before police say he massacred 11 people in 2018 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Mastriano, the spot hammers, is “way too extreme.”

‘Scorched Earth Campaign’: Group Says 3 Officials From PA Threaten American Democracy

Photo: Mastriano at Jan. 6 Attack on Capitol

By Bruce Siwy
The Times: Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Three prominent Pennsylvania Republicans have been identified as “a grave danger to American democracy” in a new report.

The report — expected to be issued this week by the Defend Democracy Project, an organization founded by two men who worked for the Obama campaign and administration — gives these distinctions to state senator and gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-10) and U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-16). Authors cited the trio’s involvement in an array of activities related to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.

“These three individuals all took part in unprecedented attempts to overturn the will of American voters, but that is not all they have in common — Mastriano, Perry, and Kelly continue to pose a grave danger to American democracy,” the report states. “Together with other MAGA Republicans, they are leading a scorched earth campaign to consolidate power over elections for decades to come, both in Pennsylvania and across the country.”

Michael Berman, a state director for the Defend Democracy Project, characterized Trump and some of his allies as part of an “ongoing, violent criminal conspiracy” in a call with reporters Tuesday.

The organization’s mission is to “work with leading organizations, noted experts and critical validators to make sure this plot to overturn elections can’t go forward under the cover of darkness,” according to its website. It’s working in six other states besides Pennsylvania — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

A “wanted” flier distributed by activists with the 10th District Network that accuses U.S. Rep Scott Perry (R-10) of sedition.

In their rationale for Mastriano’s inclusion, the Defend Democracy Project listed the following concerns:

His call for treating the popular vote as non-binding for presidential electors if the “election was compromised.”


His legally questionable proposal to force all Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote.]


His use of campaign cash to bus supporters to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.


And his attempts to bring an election audit to Pennsylvania, similar to what was conducted in Arizona.

Mastriano — who’s demonstrated a routine avoidance of media outside of explicitly right-wing circles — has consistently doubled down on unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. Earlier this year his bill to expand the use of poll watchers across the commonwealth was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, who cited concern that the measure would undermine “the integrity of our election process and (encourage) voter intimidation.”

Regarding Perry, the nonprofit noted:

Testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson stating that Perry met with Trump officials bent on overturning the 2020 election.


His use of conspiracy theories to urge investigations from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to records provided by Meadows.


His work as a liaison between the White House and Pennsylvania Legislature in coordinating efforts to delay or object to the commonwealth’s Electoral College votes for now-President Joe Biden.


Perry’s office did not return a call by press deadline. Earlier this year he said he’d done nothing wrong in relation to these matters.

“My conversations with the president or the Assistant Attorney General, as they have been with all with whom I’ve engaged following the election, were a reiteration of the many concerns about the integrity of our elections, and that those allegations should at least be investigated to ease the minds of the voters that they had, indeed, participated in a free and fair election,” Perry said in a statement in January.

House investigators said May 12, 2022, that they have issued subpoenas to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers, including Perry, as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, an extraordinary step that has little precedent and is certain to further inflame partisan tensions over the 2021 attack. (AP

Kelly, meanwhile, was cited for:

His unsuccessful court challenge to the legality of 2020 mail ballots in Pennsylvania.


His vote to overturn the 2020 election results.
An allegation by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that he helped to orchestrate a false elector scheme.


Comments such as his claim that former President Barack Obama “is to run a shadow government that is gonna totally upset the new (Trump) agenda.”


Asked in July if he still believed that the election was stolen from Trump, Kelly told an Erie Times-News reporter: “Well, we’re already what, almost two years into this administration? So I think that’s past tense. There’s no use discussing it today. Nothing’s going to change today. I stated my opinions back when it took place.”

Kelly’s office did not return a phone call by press deadline.

What’s on voters’ minds:’In a whirlwind of trouble’: PA poll reveals top concerns (spoiler: It’s the economy…)

About the Defend Democracy Project
The Defend Democracy Project describes its mission as ensuring that “American voters determine the outcome of elections.” It was established earlier this year.

According to Berman, the organization was founded by Leslie Dach and Brad Woodhouse.

An online bio for Dach states that he served as senior counselor to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services as its global Ebola coordinator. He’s also served as senior adviser to six presidential campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run.

Woodhouse, in his bio, is characterized as “a longtime Democratic strategist, having previously served as President of some of the nation’s leading progressive groups including Correct the Record, American Bridge 21st Century, and Americans United for Change.” It also states that he worked as a senior strategist for the Obama campaign and communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Berman said the Defend Democracy Project examined the public records and statements of politicians across the country and compiled its list based on those who objected to certifying the 2020 election or implied that it was “stolen” from Trump.

Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network’s Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at bsiwy@gannett.com or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.

GOP Fascism: Doug Mastriano’s Election-Takeover Plan

Photo: Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a rally at Archery Addictions on May 13, 2022 in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. With less than a week until Pennsylvania’s primary election on Tuesday May 17, polls have Republican candidate Doug Mastriano as the front runner in the Governor’s primary race. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Stop the Steal is only a pretense for seizing control.

By Amanda Carpenter

The Bulwark

JULY 5, 2022 – By now, political junkies are familiar with the rucksack of election-denying baggage that Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano schleps around: He organized a faux post-election legal hearing for Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg; he asked Congress to deny Pennsylvania’s electors; he spent thousands of campaign funds busing people to the Capitol on Jan. 6th; he was filmed crossing police barricades; some of his supporters were arrested for their activities that day, and he visited Arizona to observe its disastrous Cyber Ninjas audit in hopes of replicating it in Pennsylvania.

Those are only the highlights of what Mastriano has done in the past. But what about the future? People like Mastriano are never going to let Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss go. If anything, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” lies provide a pretext for actions intended to ensure MAGA types win in future elections.

How will they do it? Well, Mastriano has some ideas. (Well above and beyond hiring Trump’s throne-sniffing flack Jenna Ellis as his legal adviser.)

Although Mastriano evades scrutiny by blockading typical media interviews, with some help from his insurrection-friendly friends, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about his plans when he feels comfortable. Put those snippets together, and it shows Mastriano has a pretty well-thought-out election takeover plan in mind.

His platform includes the following:

–loosening restrictions on poll watchers to make it easier to challenge votes;


–repealing vote-by-mail laws;


–appointing a fellow 2020 election-denier to be secretary of state who could enable him to decertify every voting machine “with a stroke of a pen”;


–forcing all Pennsylvania voters to re-register;

–and defunding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.


Let’s take them one by one.

Last month, Mastriano’s legislation to loosen restrictions on poll watchers passed both houses of the General Assembly. Its passage on party-line votes by the GOP-controlled legislature is not surprising, since one of the problems that frustrated Trump supporters in 2020 is that they could not recruit in-county residents in blue areas, such as Philadelphia, to serve as poll workers and make challenges to votes. Mastriano’s bill changes that.

If the bill were signed into law—which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will not do—it would increase the number of poll watchers permitted by candidates from two to three, kill in-county residency requirements for poll watchers, and give poll watchers a “clear line of sight to view and hear” election workers and voters “at a distance of six feet or less.”

What could these poll watchers do with this increased capacity? Per Pennsylvania state guidance, poll watchers are empowered to “make good faith challenges to an elector’s identity, continued residence in the election district, or qualifications as an eligible voter.”

Such challenges are directed to the judge of elections, who “has the obligation to determine if the challenge is based on actual evidence and whether there is a good faith basis to believe that the person is not or may not be a qualified elector.” Democratic critics of the bill object that the close proximity of poll watchers brought in from out of the county raises the likelihood of voter intimidation.

In a statement, Trump encouraged Pennsylvania Republicans to tie passage of this bill and other election-related restrictions to the state budget:

Just as Trump called for, Mastriano has also promoted legislation to ban dropboxes and private funding for elections, as well as to eliminate “no excuse” mail-in voting and the permanent absentee voter list.

But Mastriano’s potential powers as governor far exceed that of a state senator when it comes to controlling Pennsylvania’s elections.

Unlike many other states where the secretary of state is an elected position, in Pennsylvania, the governor gets to make an appointment for the position. Mastriano already has his pick in mind and, although he hasn’t provided a name, he has teased that with this appointment and his powers, he could “decertify every machine in the state with a stroke of a pen via the secretary of state.” He said, as captured via audio, here:

“I’m Doug Mastriano, and I get to appoint the secretary of state, who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs, and everything. I could decertify every machine in the state with the, you know, with the stroke of a pen via my secretary of state. I already have the secretary of state picked out. It’s a world-class person that knows voting integrity better than anyone else in the nation, I think, and I already have a team that’s gonna be built around that individual.”

This is why Mastriano probably feels like he has a sporting chance to reset the voter rolls and force all of Pennsylvania’s 9 million voters to submit new voter applications to re-register to vote.

Federal voting laws prohibit such a practice, but that doesn’t deter Mastriano from campaigning on it and may not prevent Governor Mastriano from trying it—and creating a massive tangle of legal problems in the face of looming election deadlines.

Where would those legal challenges be decided? Most likely, in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. And for that, Mastriano has another idea in mind in case things don’t go his way.

If the state’s highest court doesn’t do as he pleases, he thinks it should be defunded, which is something he’s called for after the 2020 election. Here he is on a podcast* in November 2020:

“I wish the General Assembly, we would do our darn job here, and make them feel some pain. We could, we could, rein in elements. Even, we even, budget and fund the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If we are so, we’re out there as you know, shouting outrage about how they’re rewriting law, then, okay, maybe we should defund them. And let them figure out how they’re going to run a business without a budget. …” Read More

Summer Lee, Declaring Victory In Pennsylvania, Puts Dark Money Democrats On Notice

Summer Lee with Bernie

The United Democracy Project, a super PAC for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, poured millions to defeat Lee in a Pennsylvania House primary. Similar dark money groups have targeted several progressives.

BY ABIGAIL TRACY
Wanity Fair

MAY 19, 2022 – Around seven weeks before Pennsylvania’s primary elections, Summer Lee commanded a lead of 25 points over rival Steve Irwin in the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District, a blue stronghold encompassing Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs. It appeared that Lee, 34, a Black woman and progressive activist who currently serves as a Pennsylvania state representative, would make history.

Then came the outside money. By election day, Democratic groups had dumped more than $2 million into the primary race to defeat Lee—dwarfing the outside money spent attacking Irwin, a mere $2,400. Specifically, the United Democracy Project (UDP)—a political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—spent $2,025,297 against Lee and $660,317 in support of Irwin, 62, a Pittsburgh lawyer and county Democratic Party organizer. The ads painted Lee as anti-Israel and claimed she was “not a real Democrat,” following a playbook that moderate groups have run against other progressives nationwide, including against Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman.

Lee declared victory on election night, at 12:30 a.m.; as of midday Wednesday, news outlets still hadn’t called an official winner—the race was too tight. Progressive groups and lawmakers including Senator Bernie Sanders congratulated her on the win. Lee declared, “This is the mightiest movement in the land!” Much of Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment, including the retiring representative Mike Doyle, whose seat Lee and Irwin are after, had thrown their support behind Irwin. “They say a Black woman can’t win. Well, we came together. We can’t be stopped. We have a lot of work ahead of us. When we set out to do this, we believed a better world was possible; now we have to go do it,” Lee said in her remarks early Wednesday morning.

But the efforts to stop Lee are part of a broader trend in Democratic politics, as super PACs with big budgets have sought to prevent progressives—often women of color—from winning races across the country. “It’s really concerning to see the huge influx of outside money flowing into this race and the disingenuous effort to paint a progressive woman of color and the only sitting elected official in the race as an opponent of the Democratic Party,” a senior progressive official in the House told me.

Continue reading Summer Lee, Declaring Victory In Pennsylvania, Puts Dark Money Democrats On Notice

J.D. Vance, Dr. Oz, Doug Mastriano and the Multiverse of Political Madness

How did Ohio and Pennsylvania become ground zero for Trumpian unreality? Three Dangers to Defeat

By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Columnist

MAY 5, 2022 – I was not a fan of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” when it was riding high on the bestseller lists a few years ago. Even then, I suspected that there was something forced and inauthentic about it.

I felt vindicated when then Senate-majority leader Mitch McConnell gassed on and on about how great the book was, because that alone meant it was actually terrible. Mr. McConnell then encouraged Mr. Vance to run for the open Senate seat in Ohio in 2018.

Not too long ago, “Hillbilly Elegy” was made into a bad movie by director Ron Howard. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment had moved on from an initial infatuation with Mr. Vance to get behind Josh Mandel, an over-the-top Trump loyalist best known for nearly coming to blows with a 70-year-old rival candidate during a primary debate.

Despite his frantic attempts to earn Donald Trump’s blessings as the Trumpiest of the candidates, Mr. Mandel was outmaneuvered by former Never Trumper J.D. Vance at every turn.

Both candidates willingly debased themselves to get Mr. Trump’s endorsement in ways that would have made a North Korean apparatchik blush.

But even after audio clips of Mr. Vance insulting his autocratic style resurfaced from the 2016 presidential race, Mr. Trump endorsed the author and venture capitalist, knowing that he had an excellent chance of nabbing a servile Senate ally in a crucial state if he won.

Even though Mr. Vance is technically a fellow celebrity whose life had been turned into a movie, he isn’t particularly memorable. Days before the Ohio primary, Mr. Trump still didn’t have a firm grasp of his own endorsed candidate’s name. “We’ve endorsed J.P., right? J.D. Mandel,” he said after deciding it simply didn’t matter and that people would figure it out. “He’s doing great.”

During his victory speech, J.D. Vance wrapped his arms around the entirety of Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda without a scintilla of embarrassment. His transformation into America’s least authentic politician was complete. He needed Mr. Trump’s endorsement, raced to the bottom against determined primary foes to get it, and now has an excellent chance of being elected to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate in November.

As part of the identity shift, Mr. Vance has had to lose whatever integrity he had left to come across twice as dumb as he actually is. He’s devolving before our eyes so that he can be considered more “relatable” to the Trump-faithful in November.

But as odd and dispiriting as the race in Ohio appears to the rest of the country, it may actually pale in sheer awfulness and stupidity to the Multiverse of Madness that is Pennsylvania politics.

Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat has no shortage of Republican operators eager to kiss the ring of the MAGA King even if it meant kneeling in the middle of the Pa. Turnpike to get it.

Just like in Ohio, the Republican establishment has a preference that the former president couldn’t care less about. David McCormick got wealthy in software and hedge fund management and has actually served in a Republican White House where he made powerful friends, including several high profile veterans of the Trump administration.

The problem for Mr. McCormick is that Mr. Trump doesn’t respect meritocratic presumption. Of the seven GOP candidates, Mr. Trump sees only one viable candidate — Dr. Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor Oprah Winfrey launched to fame.

Dr. Oz was able to corral the coveted endorsement largely on the strength of his own celebrity and willingness to genuflect before Mr. Trump on everything, including conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, contempt for Dr. Anthony Fauci and criticism of Democratic governors over “harsh” COVID measures.

Dr. Oz’s reputation as a flim-flam artist precedes him, so he was more likely than the others to land Mr. Trump’s endorsement. His primary opponents have accused the Turkish-born candidate of being a carpetbagger who doesn’t really live in the state, but sees an opportunity to pick up an open Senate seat while benefitting from his two-decade career as a snake oil salesman.

His opponents have recently circulated pictures of Dr. Oz voting in an election in Turkey as recently as 2018. He’s a dual citizen and defends his 2018 vote as his right and responsibility. The problem is that it is impossible to find a photo of him voting in a Pennsylvania election.

Still, he’s considered the Republican frontrunner because in the context of this race, he’s the Trumpiest and has the benefit of the Trump imprimatur.

But the wackiest race of all is the GOP gubernatorial primary. That’s where all the laziest, least distinguished candidates are, some of whom actually scoff at those with actual political experience. Mr. Trump has yet to endorse anyone among the nine candidates, but no one doubts that it is state Senator Doug Mastriano’s endorsement to lose.

Mr. Mastriano is a Christian nationalist and QAnon-friendly politician who organized a bus convoy from Pennsylvania to the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6th. He was spotted on the Capitol grounds that day, but swears he never breached the Capitol itself with the rioters. He was just an innocent bystander as American democracy came close to being permanently hijacked.

Since November 2020 when Mr. Trump lost the presidential race, Mr. Mastriano has demonstrated an unwavering loyalty to the sorest loser in American history. He’s a true believer whose fervent constituency overlaps with the former president’s perfectly, establishing a deeper legitimacy with Mr. Trump than even raw charisma — which he lacks — could.

When Mr. Trump finally gets around to endorsing GOP frontrunner Doug Mastriano as his choice for governor, the Multiverse of Political Madness in Pennsylvania will have its triggering event.

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631 or Twitter @Tony_NormanPG.