Mastriano and Oz: An 'awkward marriage' atop the Pennsylvania GOP ticket

·7 min read

Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz, the GOP's nominees in Pennsylvania for governor and the Senate respectively, share little in common other than the support of former President Donald Trump.

They're otherwise poised to go their separate ways this fall, and that's what some state Republicans believe is best.

"I think they should keep separate," said Lou Capozzi, the chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee. "They have different messages. There's some people who are going to be receptive to Doug’s message. And hopefully, they'll vote for him. And there’s going to be people that are receptive to Oz’s message. And there may be some crossover."

Mastriano, a state senator most prominently known for having been outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and for having been intimately involved in an effort to appoint fake electors to stop President Joe Biden from taking office, has sought to quell concerns among the state's GOP establishment that he is too far to the right to win this fall. Oz, a celebrity TV doctor who faced scrutiny from hard-line conservatives for past comments about abortion and transgender youths, has tried to shore up his standing with the right-wing base while building inroads among independent voters.

The efforts have been on parallel tracks. Mastriano and Oz haven’t made any firm commitments to campaign together or host joint fundraisers. Although they have appeared at the same state party functions or at events put on by outside groups, they have done little to promote each other — Mastriano’s posting of photos on Twitter and Facebook of the two at the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police convention in Erie this month was a notable exception.

Trump-backed tickets in other areas have converged. In Arizona, Kari Lake, Trump's pick for governor, and Blake Masters, his Senate choice, campaigned together on the eve of the primary. In Michigan, Matt DePerno, Trump's preferred candidate for attorney general, joined Tudor Dixon, his choice for governor, on the campaign trail hours after he endorsed her late last month.

"It’s an awkward marriage," said Morgan Boyd, a Republican commissioner in Lawrence County, which went for Trump by 30 points in 2020.

At a rally Friday, Mastriano continued to question the results of the 2020 election. "If you ask questions about the 2020 election, you’re an election denier," he said, the Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh reported. "Are you serious? What a stupid thing to say."

Boyd endorsed state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Mastriano's Democratic opponent, but he is voting for Oz and other Republicans on the November ballot. He criticized Mastriano as "pushing more hard-line, hard-core social issues" that he says are "outside the mainstream" while crediting Oz for a sharper focus on the economy, immigration and health care.

"I think that Dr. Oz’s base is very different from Doug Mastriano’s base," Boyd said. "I think it would be difficult for the two campaigns to reconcile and get on the same policy message when you have two very different groups of voters supporting them."

While Mastriano and Oz have yet to join forces, their Democratic rivals have linked up for a coordinated effort backed by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, The Associated Press reported in June.

The effort will help finance a ground game to register and persuade voters for Shapiro and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee, who hosted his first public campaign event Friday after having suffered a stroke in May.

Surveys have consistently shown Mastriano and Oz trailing their Democratic rivals. A Fox News poll last month showed Mastriano trailing by 10 points, while Oz was behind by 11.

Mastriano’s attacks on Oz during the primary could complicate efforts to link up. In March, he criticized Oz to a radio host for his ties to Oprah Winfrey and "the Hollywood class," as well as for his recent move to Pennsylvania.

"We have tapes of him, you know, approving of abortion. Suddenly, he’s pro-life now because [of] his Republican primary. We have video of him encouraging, you know, changing your gender and all this kind of stuff," he said. "And so I just, you know, something’s wrong."

Furthermore, Mastriano told an interviewer in 2018 that Islam isn’t compatible with the Constitution, adding, "Not all religions are created equal." The same year, he shared an article on Facebook headlined "A Dangerous Trend: Muslims running for office," the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.

Oz, who is running to be the first Muslim senator in U.S. history, this year denounced what he called "Islamophobic and homophobic comments" posted online by his then-rival, Kathy Barnette (whom Mastriano had backed), saying such postings were "disqualifying."

Neither campaign responded to requests for comment. An official for the Republican National Committee, which handles coordination among campaigns, said the party is "working hand in glove to get out the vote with our statewide nominees, as well as all Republicans running up and down the ballot," saying it has contacted more than 2.3 million voters in-state and that it has made investments in Democratic-leaning urban areas. The official said the RNC has worked more closely with Oz’s campaign but described its efforts as "business as usual" so far.

In June, the Oz campaign told The Associated Press that he "supports the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania" and "looks forward to seeing [Mastriano] out on the trail this summer."

Manuel Bonder, a Shapiro campaign spokesman, said in a statement: "From his pledge to ban abortion with no exceptions, to his plot to overturn future elections, Doug Mastriano has spent his entire campaign making it clear he is too extreme for Pennsylvania. Now, he's showing he is even too extreme for his own out-of-touch running mate."

In recent weeks, Mastriano has begun to coalesce the broader Pennsylvania GOP establishment around his campaign, which is at a significant resource disadvantage compared with that of Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the primary. He rolled out endorsements this month from eight of the state’s nine Republican members of Congress, with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick as the lone holdout. Fitzpatrick has endorsed Oz.

"Mastriano surprised a lot of people with the breadth of the grassroots organization he had in place," said former Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa. "It was largely under the radar."

Rothfus, who endorsed former Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., in the primary for governor and now backs Mastriano, said both candidates should zero in on inflation, crime and energy policy. He expects them to come together as Election Day nears, particularly so they can increase their fundraising.

"That’s one of the issues people look at, is the tremendous amount of money that’s being raised by both Fetterman and Shapiro," he said. "I contend you don’t have to match dollar for dollar, but you have to have enough to get your message out."

A local Republican Party leader said that while Oz has managed to grow his coalition in the GOP post-primary, Mastriano "seems to get more divisive as each day rolls on." The GOP leader said the two would need to build a unified ground game to maximize voter turnout.

"It’s hard to imagine the two personalities of Oz and Mastriano working the trail together," the Republican leader said. "Oz is a stable, managed-speech-type person. And Mastriano is a flamboyant, let-it-all-hang-out, God-and-country type of a person. And [Mastriano] appeals to a particular type of audience. And I don't know if that’s exactly the kind of audience Oz is appealing to."

Capozzi, who recently attended a GOP state committee meeting with Mastriano and Oz present, said it was tough to imagine the two working the trail together.

"I just don't see that happening," he said. "They're just two totally different people. And that’s OK. Because the Republican Party, they cast a wide net. We have a big tent.”

Capozzi said he hopes the environment, which tends to favor the party out of power during a president's first term, will provide the boost both need.

"So they can both win," he said. "But it’s going to be a different path for each."

CORRECTION (Aug. 14, 2022, 7:15 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Doug Mastriano posted a photo of him with Mehmet Oz at the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police convention. The photo was posted Aug. 3, not last week.