MALVERN, PA — On a chilly Saturday morning in mid-October, state and national GOP leaders headed to a hotel patio restaurant in a critical suburb of Philadelphia to energize loyalists heading into next month’s election, where the pair at the top are fumbling. Pennsylvania ticket.

After citing what they called Democrats’ failures, party officials introduced the keynote speaker: Dr. Mehmet Oz, Democrat John Fetterman’s Senate nominee in a race that could decide control of the House and the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

“I’m very happy to retire the name of the doctor, and let’s make sure he becomes a senator,” Rona McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, told the crowd.

Nowhere to be seen — or even mentioned — was Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor against Democrat Josh Shapiro.

Oz, a heart surgeon turned TV celebrity, and Mastriano have the national political wind at their backs. But they’re running very different campaigns and targeting two very different types of voters — in ways that may hinder rather than help the other.

That dynamic complicates the Republican path to victory in Pennsylvania on Nov. 8, strategists say, and forces the GOP into an uneasy balancing act in which the two men rarely appear together.

Party strategists said it made sense to avoid Mastriano because he trails Shapiro in the polls and is running a far-right campaign that will drive away the moderate voters Oz will need to defeat Fetterman, the lieutenant governor.

Ryan Costello, a former Republican congressman who once represented that part of Chester County, said that if he had run for office and been invited to the party, “I would ask if Mastriano would come, and if they said yes, I would something else. He’s horrible.”

Mastriano will lose Republican votes in moderate and populous Philadelphia suburbs, just as Donald Trump lost to Biden in the 2020 presidential election, Costello said.

Representatives of the Republican Party did not respond to questions about Mastryan.

Fetterman does not lose the dynamic, which keeps linking Oz to Mastriano. During Tuesday night’s debate, Fetterman interrupted Oz’s answer to a question about abortion to claim that “you’re playing with Doug Mastriano!”

The next day, Mastriano mentioned the line in a silly speech in Lancaster County and laughed about it: “I like it: Let’s ride together.” But he didn’t mention Oz, only Fetterman.

Like Mastriano, Oz has been endorsed by Trump. But unlike Mastriano, Oz has not been warmly received by Trump’s most loyal voters — those who make up Mastriano’s far-right base.

Mastriano has gone hard after Trump’s bloc, weaving transgender conspiracy theories into the GOP’s more popular themes of crime and inflation while refusing to answer questions from major independent news organizations. But that message, along with his outspoken opposition to abortion, his distribution of Trump’s election lies and his presence outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 uprising, alienated moderates and GOP donors.

“It’s like he’s still running the primary,” said Republican campaign strategist Bob Salero. “He will not go anywhere. He is not talking to any groups of people who are not already going to vote for him in the general election. He does not invite the media to his events. He doesn’t get the message outside of his base.”

Meanwhile, Oz is emphasizing the GOP’s national themes of crime and inflation in an effort to win over voters and even Democrats. He campaigned with key GOP figures, including Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, and retired two-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, whom Oz hopes will succeed him.

Mastriano has campaigned with far-right figures, including propagandists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, election denialists, self-proclaimed prophets and Christian nationalists such as Michael Flynn, who once ran the US intelligence agency and is now at the center of the far-right Christian Nationalist Movement.

Toomey did not support Mastriano.

Mastriano was scheduled to speak at Flynn’s two-day ReAwaken America conference last weekend in Mannheim, but missed it without explanation. Most recently, he campaigned with propagandist Jack Posobey, perhaps best known for promoting the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor.

“That’s who he surrounds himself with: white supremacists, extremists,” Shapiro, who served two terms as attorney general, said in an interview. – He is the only candidate in the country who is actively recruiting supporters of white supremacy on the Gab to become part of his campaign. So, it shouldn’t surprise us. This is the guy who wore the Confederate uniform on the grounds of the Army War College. That’s who he is.”

Fetterman and Shapiro have no such problems appearing together. They appear at the same major party events and union rallies, such as one 30 miles outside of Philadelphia, where they hugged and mugged rally attendees on camera.

Mastriano could still help Oz, strategists say, by getting the party’s base to come out and vote for Oz. But Oz will have to attract moderate Republicans in places like Chester County, even if they refuse to support Mastriano, Costello said.

“And if he does that, Oz wins here,” Costello said.

Mike Mikus, a Democratic political strategist, said that balance could work, but Mastriano lacks the campaign cash to reach core GOP supporters who might not vote in the midterm elections.

Motivating these voters is critical if the Republican Party is to win, Mikus said.

“Voter turnout will be high,” Mikus said. “But there will be people who stay home because Oz can’t motivate them, and Mastriano will be able to motivate them, but he doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to drive them out.”


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