By Phil Stewart and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Republicans in Pennsylvania defended Donald Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano on Saturday after Reuters published a 2014 photo of him posing in a Confederate uniform.
The previously unreported photo was released by the U.S. Army War College to Reuters under a Freedom of Information Act request. It showed Mastriano among the 2013-14 faculty for the Department of Military Strategy, Plans, and Operations, where he worked at the time.
For years, the photo had hung at the college, which took it down following Reuters' request, saying the image did not reflect its values. Mastriano, a state senator who retired from the Army in 2017, did not respond to requests for comment.
Lee Snover, chair of the Republican Party in Northampton County, downplayed the significance of the photo.
"It happened years ago. There was something called the Civil War and that included Confederate soldiers, so not sure what the big deal is," Snover said.
Asked whether she supported the college's decision to take down the photo, she said, "I wouldn't have. I don't like liberals tearing down our history."
Sam DeMarco, head of the Allegheny County Republican Party, which includes Pittsburgh, once penned an op-ed airing his concerns about Mastriano's electability. But he said the photo was being overblown by the candidate's opponents.
"This story is another example of why the media is viewed poorly and with distrust by many on the right," DeMarco told Reuters.
Video: Army contacts Doug Mastriano campaign about military images
Faculty in the photo had been given the option of dressing as a historical figure, people familiar with the photo said, but most opted for regular attire. Mastriano is the only one wearing a Confederate uniform.
Displays of Confederate symbols can be seen as insensitive to those who view them as painful reminders of racial oppression and the Civil War that saw 11 rebelling Confederate states fight to keep Black people enslaved.
Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's attorney general who is running against Mastriano in the November ballot, said on Saturday that his opponent had voluntarily worn the uniform of traitors.
"This man is dangerous and out of touch," Shapiro told a campaign rally. "This man doesn't respect you or our shared values of common humanity."
More than 33,000 soldiers from Pennsylvania died fighting for the Union during the Civil War, and the state was the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, the conflict's bloodiest battle, which ended with a Union victory and inspired President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Mastriano's district, Pennsylvania's 33rd, includes Gettysburg.
Democrat Austin Davis, a candidate for lieutenant governor and the first Black American to serve as a state representative for Pennsylvania's 35th district, said it was "unconscionable" and "deeply hurtful" for Mastriano to wear a uniform that reflects the enslavement of Black people.
"We must defeat him in November," Davis wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Daniel Wallis)