HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democrat Josh Shapiro won the race for governor of Pennsylvania, securing the office for four years in a state where the future of abortion rights is on the line, along with management of the 2024 election in a battleground that is often decisive in choosing presidents.
Shapiro, the state’s two-term elected attorney general, ran to the middle on several key issues and smashed Pennsylvania’s campaign finance record in a powerhouse campaign, swamping Republican Doug Mastriano in a deluge of TV ads.
He had led polls from the start over Mastriano, and his victory — in a year in which Democrats nationally faced headwinds, including high inflation — made him the first governor to be elected to succeed a member of his party since 1966.
“Tonight, voters from Gen Z to our seniors, voters from all walks of life, have given me the honor of a lifetime, given me the chance to serve you as Pennsylvania’s next governor,” Shapiro told a cheering crowd of hundreds in his home of Montgomery County, in suburban Philadelphia.
Shapiro thanked his family and supporters and went on to tell the crowd that “real freedom won tonight” and “Democracy endured” in a race he characterized as, in part, a fight to preserve the right to vote, the right to organize a union and the right to an abortion.
He also thanked Republicans he said had voted for a Democrat for the first time, and said that with their vote “comes a responsibility to govern by bringing people together and getting things done.”
“And so Pennsylvania, tonight we showed how to build a coalition to win a race in a big way, and tomorrow we begin the hard work of building a coalotion to govern this commonwealth and move us forward,” Shapiro said.
He did not mention Mastriano, whom he bitterly attacked during the campaign as surrounding himself with white supremacists and was intolerant of anyone different from him.
Mastriano, who ran a hard-right campaign, had not publicly conceded by early Wednesday. Shortly after Shapiro’s comments, Mastriano spoke in a hotel in suburban Harrisburg, telling the crowd they would wait for every vote to be counted and “respect” the decision Pennsylvanians make.
“Have faith, we’re going to of course have faith and have patience,” Mastriano said. “We’re going to wait until very vote counts. It’s been fantastic run across the state here.”
In light of June’s Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, Shapiro vowed to protect Pennsylvania’s existing 24-week law and he touted his office’s fights in court to protect the state’s 2020 election from former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn it.
Mastriano had said he supported a complete ban on abortion, with no exceptions, and had been a point person in Trump’s drive to stay in power and spread lies about a stolen election.
Shapiro, a political force strong enough to clear the Democratic primary, has now won three statewide elections and came into the race as the all-time highest-vote getter in a single election in Pennsylvania, breaking the record in his own 2020 reelection.
With no primary challenger to force him to the left on key issues, Shapiro took middle-of-the-road positions on policies around education funding, COVID-19 mitigation and energy.
He endorsed Austin Davis, a state lawmaker, to be his running mate and the first Black lieutenant governor in a state that has never elected a Black governor or U.S. senator.
In his own remarks, Davis called it a “historic night” and said his steelworker and railroad foreman grandfathers, who migrated north from the segregated South for a better life, could not have predicted he would be elected to such a high office.
Shapiro will succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term and had endorsed Shapiro. He will likely share power with entrenched Republican majorities in the state Legislature.
Shapiro, 49, served in the state House of Representatives and chaired the Montgomery County commissioners board before winning election as the state’s top prosecutor in 2016 with no law enforcement background and little practical courtroom experience.
There, he righted an office rocked by his scandal-plagued predecessor and produced a landmark grand jury report in 2018 on the cover-up of child sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses.
He also was on the national stage in helping lead state attorneys general in settlement talks with big pharmaceutical distributors and major drug manufacturers over the U.S. opioid addiction crisis. On gun violence, he has emphasized his office’s efforts to trace guns used in crimes, break up gun-trafficking rings and clamp down on so-called “ghost guns.”
Mastriano comparatively struggled to raise money and relied on a passionate grassroots volunteer force and daily Facebook videos to connect with followers.
A relative political novice, Mastriano, 58, a state senator and retired Army colonel, alienated moderates with a right-wing platform that nevertheless had helped him lock down the party’s furthest-right voters, secure Trump’s endorsement and win a crammed, nine-way primary election.
No GOP contender for governor in the U.S. did more to subvert the 2020 presidential election than Mastriano — and Democrats accused him of preparing to subvert the next one from the governor’s office, while many in his own party predicted he was too extreme to win a general election in Pennsylvania.
Mastriano had other liabilities.
He peddled conspiracy theories throughout the campaign after becoming one of Pennsylvania’s leading spreaders of Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 presidential election. He campaigned with far-right figures, including propagandists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, election deniers, self-described prophets and Christian nationalists.
His once-active account on Gab, a social media site popular with white supremacists and antisemites, where he also spent $5,000 for advertising, prompted a condemnation by the national Republican Jewish Coalition.
His use of what scholars call Christian nationalist themes — generally defined as fusing American and Christian values, symbols and identity, often into a view that God has destined America for a special role in history and that it will receive divine blessing or judgment depending on its obedience — also turned off some voters.
Mastriano avoided speaking to most independent news organizations and struggled to explain his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when he was outside the U.S. Capitol with pro-Trump demonstrators and looked on as they attacked police.
His presence there prompted the FBI to interview him, and his plan to overturn the election results, introduced as a resolution in the Legislature, drew a subpoena from the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection.
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Brooke Schultz of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative contributed to this report from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.