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Mastriano's army, bridge decay, and COVID rising

Plus, a potentially seismic mail ballot decision.

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 23, 2022
Governor's race, ballot call, red flags, Lee wins, post-mortem, poll problem, odd everything, and 🌷 a Spring bonus. It's Monday. Welcome.
With an 11th-hour nod from former President Donald Trump at his back and a loyal following drawn to his arch-conservative platform, Doug Mastriano is one step closer to being Pennsylvania's next governor.

Mastriano, a Republican state senator from rural Franklin County, won last week's GOP primary despite minimal fundraising and a hasty effort by party insiders to thwart his bid — their push coming amid concerns that Mastriano's far-right politics are too extreme to win in November.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Mastriano showed no signs of softening his pitch as he heads into one of the most closely watched — and most expensive — gubernatorial elections in state history.

Some of Mastriano's positions are mainstream by contemporary Republican standards. But his embrace of an abortion ban with no exceptions and his sharing of patently false information on the number of mail ballots requested in 2020, for example, have piqued those electability concerns.

Spotlight PA has a look at how Mastriano built his grassroots movement on election denial, Christianity, and Facebook.

THE CONTEXT: Mastriano sent buses of people to the rally that fed the Jan. 6 insurrection and reportedly tried to pressure officials with the U.S. Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election.

Democratic nominee for governor Josh Shapiro is already warning voters of the 2024 implications were Mastriano to win the governor's race.

Mastriano will appear on the November ballot with Carrie Lewis DelRosso, a state representative from Allegheny County who won last week's GOP primary for lieutenant governor without Mastriano's support. She later refused in an interview with NBC10 to back his claims of a stolen 2020 election.

Whether Mastriano — a retired Army colonel increasingly known for a conspiratorial outlook — will try to strike a more moderate tone in the months ahead remains to be seen. Shapiro will certainly use his already massive war chest to make such a pivot even harder to pull off.

The GOP officials and operatives now lining up behind Mastriano tell Spotlight PA they see a clear, albeit slim, path to victory. But given his dedicated "grassroots army" and last week's big win in a crowded and well-funded primary field, they say Democrats should take nothing for granted.

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"The Republicans in the last several years have really taken to the idea that those who are in office or those who have been there [are] bad news and they're just as bad, if not worse than Democrats."

Political scientist Sam Chen on primary challenges that turned political longevity into a liability for some longtime GOP state lawmakers

A 34-foot long, 25-ton horse head sculpture at Parx Casino, via @lora_explores. Have a cool Pennsylvania photo to share? Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
BALLOT RULING: A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that undated mail ballots should be counted in Pennsylvania, potentially impacting the outcome of last week's still-too-close-to-call GOP U.S. Senate primary, per the AP. Narrowly trailing, candidate David McCormick welcomed Friday's ruling, which could impact other neck-and-neck races as well.

BAD BRIDGE: Months before Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed, causing multiple injuries, an inspection found widespread decay on the span — but no alarms were raised. PennDOT released the inspection report last week with images that WTAE says show holes in a bridge column, heavy corrosion, dozens of deteriorated bolts, and a nearly severed cross brace. A federal probe into the cause of the collapse continues. PennDOT and the inspection company declined comment. 

MORE RESULTS: State Rep. Summer Lee has won the closely watched Democratic primary for U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's open seat in Pittsburgh, the AP confirms. Lee is heavily favored to win in November. In the Lehigh Valley, the race for Pennsylvania's new 7th congressional district is headed for a rematch between Democratic incumbent Susan Wild and Republican Lisa Scheller, per Lehigh Valley Live. Find the outcomes of other Pennsylvania congressional primary races here.

MR. MISSTEPS: In the end, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb lost Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate by more than 30 percentage points — a surprisingly large margin for a candidate with a proven track record in difficult races. Asked to pinpoint where the bid went wrong, experts told TribLIVE that Lamb entered the race late, failed to understand what makes primary voters tick, failed to harness online donations, and failed to shed a "Skippy Silverspoon" image.

CROSS-PARTY: When Democrat Debra Hildebrand, 66, showed up at her Franklin County polling place to vote in her first primary last week, she was given a GOP ballot and told the Democratic primary was on a different day, the Herald-Mail reports. Hildebrand voted for the Republicans she thought had the least chance of winning, then she saw the election results that night and realized the mistake. An official blamed "human error" and didn't know if others were similarly impacted. 
CLASS MASKS: Almost all Pennsylvania counties are seeing high levels of COVID-19 spread currently, per the CDC, as health officials predict a looming summer wave. Masks will again be required in Philadelphia schools starting today. Masks returned in Pittsburgh Public Schools earlier this month.

ON PAUSE: Harley-Davidson has suspended production of gasoline-powered motorcycles at its York County plant for two weeks, citing an unspecified "regulatory compliance matter relating to [a] supplier's component part," Jalopnik reports. Electric motorcycle production continues.

ICE COLD: Boozy B's, the makers of alcohol-infused ice cream, plan to open a brand new location in downtown Scranton this summer, per WBRE/WYOU. Naturally, you must be 21 or older to try these flavors.

UBER SMART: A Philly Uber driver named Ryan Long is proving himself a world-class intellect with a dominating run on the quiz show Jeopardy! He also fosters baby kittens and forgot to bring his glasses to L.A., via 6ABC.

ODD CITY: Last week, Pittsburgh journalist and author Brittany Hailer asked Twitter to share "the weirdest Pittsburgh stories" ever told. The request has since gone "Pittsburgh viral" and the replies truly did not disappoint.


Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

This week's theme: Onomatopoeia
Friday's answer: Synchronous

Congrats to our weekly winner: Theresa T.

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Mike B., Bonnie R., Myles M., Don H., Ruth M., David S., Becca S., Irene R., Jodi R., Susan N.-Z., Joel S., Michelle T., Julia P., Judith D., Doris T., Ronnee G., Alissa H., Diane P., Elaine C., George S., Kimberly S., James B., Ted M., Fred H., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., Vicki U., Bill S., Doug W., Nancy S., Susan D., Suzanne S., John P., Beth T., David W., Keith F., Eddy Z., Starr B., Sandy B., Jill A.-S., Jennifer B., and Bruce B.
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