A new poll from an organization dedicated to electing Democratic governors found that state Sen. Doug Mastriano is currently leading a field of prospective GOP candidates for governor roughly a year out from state’s 2022 gubernatorial election.
The survey, sought by the Democratic Governors Association, found that 18% of Republican voters listed Mastriano as their first choice out of eight candidates seeking – or expected to seek – the GOP nomination, which also included former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.
While Mastriano led the pack of GOP hopefuls, Barletta came in second with 14% of Republican voters saying the former congressman was their preferred candidate. No other candidate received support from more than 4% of voters, with Corman coming in third at 4% and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale and state Sen. Scott Martin each received 3% percent.
Notably, 56% of voters said they are “not sure” who they’d support for the Republican nomination, showing the wide open nature of the race a little over six months out from the 2022 gubernatorial primary.
Sam Newton, a deputy communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, said the results indicate that the GOP primary may take a rightward turn.
“This poll makes it even more clear that the Pennsylvania GOP primary will be a nasty race to the bottom that rewards loyalty to far-right positions above all else,” Newton said in a statement to City & State. “And as a result, whoever survives this bruising fight will enter the general election stuck with a deeply divided party and tied to unpopular stances that are toxic with the vast majority of the state.”
Barletta, the former congressman and mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was one of the first high-profile entrances into the GOP primary, while Corman was expected to announce a bid at an event this week, prior to testing positive for COVID-19.
Mastriano, who led among candidates included in the poll, has emerged as a controversial figure in Pennsylvania politics since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he became a frequent critic of how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration handled the state’s pandemic response.
The Franklin County state senator has become a reliable conservative voice in the state Senate, sponsoring legislation to ban abortions when cardiac activity can be detected in the womb, establish voter ID requirements and exempt workers and students from COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, respectively.
Following the 2020 presidential election, Mastriano received national attention as he frequently echoed former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was marred by fraud. He also spent thousands of dollars from his campaign account to bus people to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Mastriano was in attendance on the Capitol grounds that day, but has claimed he did not enter the Capitol building and left once things turned violent. Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have said Mastriano’s actions leading up to Jan. 6 “warrant further investigation” by the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot.
Mastriano also initially led efforts to conduct an audit of the state’s 2020 election results as the head of the state Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, and requested access to ballots, voting machines and other materials from three Pennsylvania counties.
Mastriano’s attempt to audit the results faltered after the Pennsylvania Department of State threatened to decertify the voting machines of any county that allowed third-party access into their voting machines. After a lack of progress on the audit, Mastriano was stripped of his committee chairmanship by Corman, prompting a public feud between the two.
While he has not formally entered the race, Mastriano announced the formation of an exploratory committee earlier this month. Former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis pledged to endorse Mastriano when he enters the race, and Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity also voiced support for Mastriano during a WWDB-AM talk radio appearance last week, saying: “I know Doug’s only ambition is to serve and we need more people like that.”
Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College who also is the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, cautioned against putting too much stock in polls linked to candidates or political parties. However, Borick said the results of the DGA’s poll align with early sentiments about the GOP race.
"While you should always take any party or candidate polls with a grain of salt when they are released publicly, the results here don't seem particularly surprising,” Borick told City & State in an email. “I don't think voters are very tuned in yet to the race and many of the candidates are not widely known. Barletta most likely has the best name recognition and Mastriano has a following among a cohort of GOP voters, but overall this is a pretty open field.”
The Democratic Governors Association poll surveyed a total of 648 likely Republican voters from Nov. 9 to Nov. 10.