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Shapiro runs a drama-free Pa campaign amid big personalities

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, is perhaps best known as an election denier who was on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. John Fetterman, the Democrat who hopes to flip the state Senate seat, has revolutionized the way campaigns use social media. And Dr. Mehmet Oz was a television celebrity long before he launched a GOP Senate campaign.

And then there’s Josh Shapiro.

In one of the most politically competitive states in the United States, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is running a particularly drama-free campaign, betting that a relatively under-the-radar approach will resonate with voters exhausted by a deeply charged political environment. But Shapiro faces a test of whether his relatively low-key style will inspire Democrats to rally against Mastriano, whom many in the party view as an existential threat.

The GOP candidate, who worked to keep Donald Trump in power and overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, backs ending abortion rights and would be in a position to appoint the secretary of state, who oversees the election in this State often decisive in the choice of presidents. .

The strain of Shapiro’s strategy was on display during a recent stint in this small town, a deep-Republican point in south-central Pennsylvania. He spent 10 minutes going through his record as two-term attorney general and his policy goals if he became governor, such as expanding high-speed internet and increasing funding for schools. But he also acknowledged he knew what was on the minds of audience members, noting that his wife reminded him every morning, “You better win.”

Shapiro, 49, then became more explicit about the implications of a Mastriano win.

“This guy is the most dangerous and extreme person to ever run for governor in Pennsylvania and by far the most dangerous and extreme candidate to run in the United States of America,” he said. Shapiro to the crowd in Chambersburg, Mastriano’s home base in his conservative neighborhood. state senate district.

Shapiro is somehow managing a two-pronged campaign, one built for a conventional election year and the other aimed at the tense political environment following the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol and the toppling of the monument. Roe v Wade Decision guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Last month, Shapiro released a statewide TV ad that discussed a case he filed as attorney general against a contractor who agreed to pay back wages after Shapiro’s office told him off. accused of stealing from workers. Then he also aired TV ads depicting Mastriano as a threat to democracy, pointing out that Mastriano watched at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as pro-Trump protesters attacked police.

“It was there that day that my adversary sided with the angry mob, marched to the Capitol, broke through the police lines, and he did it for one purpose, all of them: they didn’t want your votes to count,” Shapiro said. an audience at Gettysburg, prompting a woman to shout, “He’s a traitor.”

This message is not lost on the Democrats who will see Shapiro.

“I think this is just a critical election,” said 29-year-old Marissa Sandoe. “I think this election will determine whether we still have democracy in this country.”

Shapiro later ignores suggestions that, for his supporters, the waters of normal-year gubernatorial politics are drowned out by existential issues, such as saving democracy.

“I’m focused like a laser beam on making life better for Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said.

The first half term of a new administration is often difficult for the president’s party. But for now, polls suggest Shaprio leads Mastriano and also has a significant fundraising advantage. Shapiro has aired over $20 million in TV ads, while Mastriano has aired virtually nothing, and nothing since the primary.

Campaigning in the state where Biden was born, Shaprio could benefit from a resurgence in Biden’s endorsement.

The president’s national popularity has risen to 45% from 36% in July, although concerns about his handling of the economy persist, according to a September poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research .

Republican Party leaders who initially criticized Mastriano as too extreme to win the fall general election say he could still win, despite his flaws, if the electorate is angry enough about inflation to tick every box. against Democrats by voting against Biden.

But Republicans recognize that Mastriano is running a race focused largely on his right-wing base, instead of reaching out to moderates who often put winners above in one of the most politically divided U.S. states.

Mastriano has secured institutional fundraising help, including events headlined by party state leaders Donald Trump Jr. and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but Republican strategists have whispered that fundraisers funds aren’t very crowded, and Mastriano took to Facebook this week to complain about a lack of support from “republican organizations at the national level.”

“We haven’t seen much help from them and we’re 49 days away,” Mastriano said.

At campaign events, Mastriano promises to be a pro-energy governor and bus migrants to Biden’s home in Delaware, and he warns that Shapiro is pursuing an extreme agenda.

“If we’re extreme about anything, it’s about loving our constitution,” Mastriano told a rally crowd in nearby Chambersburg earlier this month.

For his part, Shapiro leads the campaign valiantly, taking advantage of Mastriano’s weaknesses. The Democrat will be the guest in early October at the annual dinner of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a group used to supporting Republicans for governor. Mastriano didn’t even accept his invitation to speak to his board, which Shapiro already did.

Building trades unions working on power plants, pipelines and refineries at a coal and natural gas power plant have ignored Mastriano’s promises that “we will drill and dig as if there was no tomorrow”.

Instead, they accepted Shapiro’s middle ground stance on energy and attacked Mastriano’s support for right-to-work policies as anathema even to rank-and-file members who vote Republican.

“Here’s one thing my members get: they’ll never, ever be with someone who’s pro-right to work, ever,” said James Snell, business manager of Steamfitters Local 420 in Philadelphia.

Shapiro is also taking centrist stances that could help inoculate himself against Mastriano’s attacks.

The race got personal, with Mastriano repeatedly criticizing Shapiro’s choice of a private school for his children – a Jewish school – as “one of the most privileged and authoritative schools in the country”.

Shapiro, a staunch conservative Jew, replied that Mastriano — who espouses what scholars call Christian nationalist ideology — wants to impose his religion on others and “dictate people where and how they should worship and on what terms.”

Shapiro dug deeper on Mastriano, saying he speaks in “anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic tropes every day.” Mastriano calls those distractions Shapiro’s record as attorney general and his failure to stem rising homicides in Philadelphia.

Still, Shapiro draws crowds to Mastriano territory, far from his power base in upscale suburban Philadelphia.

It’s fertile ground, said Marty Qually, Democratic commissioner for Adams County, which includes Gettysburg, because Democrats are pissed off like he’s never seen before and even Republicans there tell him that they cannot accept Mastriano’s Christian nationalism or the hard line on abortion.

That says a lot that Shapiro is campaigning in small towns, not Democratic strongholds: It means he’s comfortable with the race’s position, Qually said.

“Some people here said, ‘Why do you want to go to Franklin County? That’s where the other guy is from,” Shapiro told the crowd in Chambersburg. “Let me tell you something. I’m glad I came. You will make me feel at home.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: twitter.com/timelywriter.

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