Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano on Monday shrugged off calls from inside his party to oppose his potential U.S. Senate bid, including one from a current legislative colleague.
“Of any of the detractors, none have had the cojones to look me in the eye and have a conversation,” Mastriano told reporters. “It’s just behind a keyboard.”
Teasing a possible Senate run during an event about a tow truck-related bill, Mastriano said he would make an announcement in a Facebook Live video on Thursday.
However, he sounded like a Senate candidate already on Monday, freely discussing debates and campaign issues, and insisting his team from last year was still in place and ready to transition to a congressional run.
Former hedge fund CEO David McCormick, who lost in the GOP U.S. Senate primary last year to Dr. Mehmet Oz, is expected to enter the 2024 Senate race, too.
Mastriano did not name him, but earlier Monday state Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon County, put a spotlight on the internal GOP debate over another statewide run by the senator, who Gov. Josh Shapiro trounced by 15 points in last year’s election.
In the first of 14 Twitter posts on the matter, Diamond said he was “calling on all level-headed PA Republicans to join me in requesting that Doug Mastriano abandon any plans he may have to run for US Senate in 2024.”
As a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2022, Diamond said he traveled across the state talking about Mastriano with Republican committee members and elected officials “about the danger his candidacy posed to our party.”
Diamond wrote that the “vast majority” of those fellow Republicans he spoke with agreed with him in private but would not go on the record publicly.
“I’m asking them now to stand up so we can avoid another electoral disaster in 2024,” Diamond said in one post.
Shortly before the primary election last year, several Republican candidates, including then-state Sen. Jake Corman, tried to coalesce behind former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta in a failed bid to keep Mastriano from winning the GOP nomination.
Many Republicans feared that Mastriano’s extreme brand of conservatism would turn off voters and blow any chance of the capturing the governor’s mansion. Ultimately, they were proven correct.
Diamond included text messages he has exchanged with Mastriano, including one sent April 13 in which he asked Mastriano not to run in 2024 for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
“Your appearance at the top of the Republican ticket last year undoubtedly contributed to Republicans losing the majority in the PA House,” Diamond wrote, “and I fear a repeat of that in 2024, as nothing in the state has changed to mitigate that impact.”
Mastriano received the fewest votes in Lebanon County among other U.S. Senate and House, and state Senate GOP candidates, according to a chart Diamond shared.
He and Mastriano fought against covid-19 lockdowns, but Diamond said he determined Mastriano was more interested in publicity than public policy. Diamond added that he later saw a “casual disregard for the truth” from Mastriano.
The criticism from within his own party did not seem to deflate Mastriano at all. “It’s irrelevant to me,” he said. “It’s the tree falling in the forest, nobody hears it.”
Mastriano on Monday was noticeably more affable with reporters, joking and chatting them up, than he was on the campaign trail last year. His campaign was openly hostile to mainstream media, while giving preferential treatment to conservative reporters.
Asked about his change in tone, Mastriano was somewhat introspective. “You know, live and learn. I’ve learned. Been burned and learned,” he said, laughing.
Likely campaign issues during a Senate election would include national energy policy, the war in Ukraine, China, stability in Afghanistan, abortion, the fentanyl crisis, and border security, said Mastriano, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
Any of his connections to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, he organized a bus trip to Washington, D.C., for the pro-Trump rally and was captured on video walking past barricades on Capitol grounds, would no longer be effective against him, Mastriano insisted.
Mastriano said that he looks forward to any potential debates and wants the state party to not endorse anyone in the primary. “I would hope the party stays out and lets the people decide,” he said.