Attacks in Pennsylvania’s contentious midterm election for governor and lieutenant governor are spilling out onto social media.
Austin Davis, the state’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is facing heat over a series of tweets from more than a decade ago, around the time Davis attended college, that appear to make derogatory statements about women and the LGBTQ community. But the criticism is coming from a candidate who has peddled conspiracy theories about elections and Islam, and who has shared content boosting the QAnon movement, which, among other baseless assertions, falsely claimed that former President Donald Trump was waging a secret war against Satan-worshiping pedophiles in government, business and other positions of power.
Davis – the running mate of Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro – appeared to post tweets using a demeaning term toward women and questioning a college professor’s discussion about homosexuality. The tweets were seized on by Shapiro’s general election opponent, GOP nominee Doug Mastriano, who is pushing Shapiro to renounce Davis’ past tweets.
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser for Mastriano who previously worked as a lawyer for Trump and has spread false claims that the 2020 election was marred by her unsubstantiated claims of “cheating,” also took to Twitter to criticize Davis, and called on both Shapiro and Davis to resign.
City & State was able to independently verify the legitimacy of at least three of the screenshots that were shared by Mastriano and his supporters. Mastriano’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Davis apologized for his tweets, calling them “stupid.”
“These stupid tweets from over a decade ago do not reflect who I am or the values I hold today, and I apologize for the harm and offense they may have caused,” Davis said. “I’m a very different person than I was in college, and I am committed to fighting for a better Commonwealth for all Pennsylvanians.”
Mastriano has been no stranger to controversy himself during this election cycle, as his hand-picked running mate in the primary, GOP lieutenant governor candidate Teddy Daniels – who lost that race to Carrie DelRosso – faced abuse allegations from his wife during the primary. A protection from abuse order sought by Daniels’ wife was eventually tossed by a judge in May.
Additionally, Mastriano faced some social media-related controversy of his own this week after a recent campaign finance report showed he paid the right-wing social media platform Gab $5,000 for advertising services.
Gab is a platform frequented by far-right users, including Robert Bowers, who is accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in 2018. Bowers reportedly posted anti-Semitic content on Gab prior to the shooting, per WESA.
Will Simons, a spokesperson for Shapiro’s campaign, accused Mastriano of “bankrolling and accepting the endorsement of the hateful organization that empowered the Tree of Life shooter to spread antisemitic, white nationalist rhetoric.”
“Mastriano’s alliances with alt-right extremists like Gab and insurrectionists like the Three Percenters are further proof that he’s way too extreme for Pennsylvania,” Simons said.
Mastriano’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the payment to Gab.