“He exposed the deception, corruption and outright theft of the 2020 presidential election, and will do something about it. It will also fight violent crime, strengthen our borders, protect life, defend our Second Amendment under siege, and help our military and vets. He’s a fighter like few others, and he’s been with me from the start, and now I have an obligation to be with him,” Trump continued.
Mastriano – who also has ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory – was already ahead in the polls during the fractured primary, although he was drastically passed on TV by candidates like former US Attorney Bill McSwain and businessman David White.
Trump called Mastriano on Friday to inform him of his decision to endorse, according to a person familiar with the call.
But the decision was made following rejection from some of Trump’s closest advisers and allies, including Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Trump was skeptical of Mastriano, another person familiar said, but was impressed with his lead in the polls and is focused on the 2020 election.
“I am honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement today. But the honor is not for me. It is for the millions of hard-working Pennsylvanians who want their individual freedoms restored, that the power back to the people and for their elected leaders to fulfill the America First — and Pennsylvania First — agenda,” Mastriano said in a statement.
Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro has encouraged Mastriano’s candidacy in ads, believing he is the easiest Republican to beat in a general election. “Shapiro just became the next governor and I’m not saying that hyperbolically,” a senior Pennsylvania GOP official said.
Top Republicans this week mounted a last-ditch effort to prevent Mastriano from winning the party’s nomination in the May 17 primary. But those efforts apparently failed. Some former single-digit voting candidates have dropped and endorsed former Rep. Lou Barletta in recent days, including State Senate Speaker Jake Corman. But the split at the top of the pack, combined with Trump’s new endorsement of Mastriano, will likely doom that effort.
“At the end of the day, an endorsement from Trump might get you a few points and that might be all you need. [in a crowded primary]. A point or two could make all the difference to a candidate coming down the straight,” Brian Nutt, a Republican strategist from Pennsylvania, said earlier this month.
Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano could also complicate the state’s Senate primary. Trump threw his support behind Mehmet Oz, known as “Dr. Oz,” in another crowded field. But Mastriano aligned himself with Kathy Barnette, another far-right candidate who also surged in the polls Barnette and Mastriano often campaign together and support each other.
Barnette, Oz and hedge funder Dave McCormick have been stuck atop recent polls in the Senate primary, while Lt. Gov. John Fetterman appears to be on course to beat the Rep. Conor Lamb and others in the Democratic primary.
Some Republicans close to the former president have argued that Trump’s support for Mastriano could backfire by hurting Oz. “People have been telling the president for a while, and he’s not protecting his Oz investment” in the race for governors, another Republican close to Trump said.
Craig Howie contributed to this report.