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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Josh Shapiro wins Pa. governor race, defeating Doug Mastriano

Pennsylvania Democratic Josh Shapiro on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Oaks, Pa.
Matt Slocum
Pennsylvania Democratic Josh Shapiro on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Oaks, Pa.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro has won Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race.

“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 at his home in Montgomery County, in suburban Philadelphia.

Shapiro’s opponent, Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, hadn’t conceded as of 1 a.m. Wednesday. He told supporters at his watch party in Camp Hill that he would wait until every vote was counted.

“This is a people’s movement, and it’s not going anywhere. We’re going to wait patiently to see what the people of Pennsylvania say,” said Mastriano, who attended the Jan. 6 insurrection himself and paid for buses to bring other Trump supporters to Washington. “Be bold and courageous, be not discouraged.”

Pundits had identified the contest as the closest thing this election cycle may have had to a sure thing. By almost every measurable standard — polling data, fundraising, endorsements — Shapiro had an edge.

It’s not like Democrats were relaxing after polls closed, though. The stakes couldn’t have been higher, nor the differences between the candidates more clear: the outcome is widely considered to be crucial for the future of voting laws, abortion access, climate action and a slew of other issues in Pennsylvania.

Mastriano had scoffed at the idea that counting ballots could take days. He talked about it with former President Donald Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon on Bannon’s War Room, saying if the country has the technology to put a man on the moon, it should have the technology to count ballots quickly.

But supporters attending Mastriano’s watch party seemed willing to be patient, and they acknowledged that counting votes correctly can take time.

Alex Georgeff of Hummelstown in Dauphin County said he hopes cool heads will prevail when results are final.

"I just pray that people are calm and peaceful, regardless of who wins,” he said.

Shapiro supporters, meanwhile, were optimistic early on.

“It’s going to be a good night, looks like,” said The Very Rev. Canon Martini Shaw of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, a friend and supporter of Shapiro.

“I think Mastriano is just absolutely too conservative for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Shaw said. “I think that Josh Shapiro has proven to be a strong, effective leader.”

Shapiro is the first Pennsylvania governor to be elected to succeed a member of his party since 1966. He endorsed state Rep. Austin Davis of McKeesport 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.

Mastriano, a U.S. Army veteran who rose to the rank of colonel in military intelligence, has yet to serve a full term in the state Senate. Prior to this year, he was little known outside a circle of conservatives who refused to accept the outcome of the 2020 election. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, he raised his profile even higher through social media chats and such efforts as a hearing that included election deniers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis — who became a Mastriano campaign advisor.

Mastriano also has been a hardliner in opposing abortion rights, and he’s been tied to Christian Nationalists, who believe the country should be led by Christians. Mastriano has resisted that label, but he’s been dogged by an early campaign decision to associate with Gab, a social media site used by the Tree of Life shooter, and other ties to far-right Christian personalities.

Some Republican leaders sought to head off his nomination because of philosophical differences or the fear that his hardline positions would cost the GOP a chance to lead a politically crucial state in an election year that favors Republicans. But Mastriano’s appeal to the base – combined with ongoing support from Donald Trump — carried him through a hotly contested primary.

By contrast to Mastriano’s sudden emergence as a GOP standard bearer, Shapiro is a political juggernaut. His rise to be his party’s gubernatorial nominee has felt inevitable — and not just because he faced no opposition in the Democratic primary.

His successful 2016 and 2020 campaigns for attorney general were bright spots for Democrats in the tumultuous Trump era, and his political resume included stints in the state House and as a Montgomery County Commissioner. As attorney general, he took on the Trump administration in fights sure to endear him with Democrats — as in cases to defend Obamacare or reverse Trump’s immigration policies. But his office also waded into battles that were less partisan, such as a court fight to prevent health care giants UPMC and Highmark from denying access to each other’s patients.

Shapiro is an avowed liberal on social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, and his campaign has stressed the importance of union rights while also opening opportunities to working people without college degrees.

Still, he has at times left more progressive elements in his own party cold: He has been more cautious than some Democrats about criminal justice reforms, and for example, he has said he would rethink a landmark decision by the Wolf Administration to enter into a multistate compact to limit carbon emissions. Stylistically, his campaign has had few of the viral moments enjoyed repeatedly by the Democrats’ other statewide nominee, U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman. But polls put him ahead of Mastriano throughout the campaign.

Throughout the general election, Mastriano sought to fault Shapiro for defending Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision early in the COVID-19 crises to shut down businesses; during a prayer at Mastriano’s campaign headquarters Tuesday night, the chaplain noted Mastriano’s role in opposing “tyranny” during COVID-19 shutdowns. (Shapiro has said he did not personally support those policies but was obliged to defend them as the state’s top lawyer.)

Mastriano also blamed Shapiro for a spike in crime rates that followed the pandemic. But his ability to do so was hurt by anemic fundraising, a lack of support from national Republican groups and a general refusal to talk to any but right-leaning media outlets.

Shapiro, meanwhile, routinely described Mastriano as “dangerous” and an extremist who would jeopardize decades of progress and the integrity of future elections.

Prognosticators almost universally expect the state legislature to remain firmly in Republican hands, so a Shapiro win means a continuation of the divided government Pennsylvania has had for the past eight years under Gov. Tom Wolf.

But for Democrats, that avoids a consolidation of Republican control under Mastriano’s would-have-been administration and resulting potential sweeping changes across the board – and not least to election and labor law, as well as abortion rights.

WHYY’s Sophia Schmidt and Kenny Cooper, WITF’s Sam Dunklau and Rachel McDevitt, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.
Emily Previti is a podcast producer and data journalist, and executive editor and co-creator of Obscured from Kouvenda Media.