Doug Mastriano has a secret. The Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor says he’s chosen someone to serve because the commonwealth’s next secretary of state — a position that can hold enormous power over the 2024 presidential election. But he won’t tell voters who it’s.
In normal circumstances, that reticence to call a key appointment so early in a gubernatorial contest would hardly be notable. But secretary of state positions have attracted unprecedented attention for the reason that 2020 election, as Republican candidates who’ve embraced the conspiracy theory that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump have lined as much as run for positions that will give them the facility to oversee future elections. And Mastriano is one among the nation’s foremost election skeptics: The state senator tried to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania, then bused supporters to Washington, D.C., on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Because Pennsylvania is one among just three states wherein the governor appoints the secretary of state, the 2022 gubernatorial race is actually a “Buy one, get one” deal for Republican election deniers: A Mastriano victory all but ensures that the subsequent secretary of the commonwealth might be someone who shares his anti-democratic zeal toward the 2020 election and who could work closely with Mastriano to roll back voting rights, overhaul Pennsylvania’s election system and even refuse to certify future results, including within the 2024 presidential contest.
Mastriano understands the facility he would hold as governor. He argued to Republican voters in the course of the primary that he could “decertify every voting machine” were he elected, and he has openly hinted that he has already chosen a possible secretary of state who shares his views.
“As governor, I get to appoint the secretary of state. And I even have a voting-reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform extremely well,” Mastriano said during an April appearance on ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast. “That individual has agreed to be my secretary of state.”
He later told an area Pennsylvania news station that he has already assembled “a team of folks that would work for this individual.”
Doug Mastriano has said that he’s already chosen someone to develop into Pennsylvania’s secretary of state should he win the governor’s race this fall. But he hasn’t told Pennsylvania voters who it would be.
Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images
Amongst Pennsylvania Democrats, there’s little doubt that Mastriano intends to nominate an election skeptic. But given the implications of the race, especially because the “big lie” stays the animating force of Republican politics, in addition they say he owes it to Pennsylvania voters to return clean about whom he’s considering ― or has already chosen ― to fill the position.
“He absolutely should tell us immediately, knowing how necessary of a subject spreading the ‘big lie’ is for Doug,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D). “The governor makes many appointments… but that is one where Doug has made clear it’s foremost in his mind and that his record has made it clear is foremost in his mind. And he’s going to need to, as a campaign promise, pick anyone incredibly radical.”
Mastriano’s refusal to call his pick has fueled speculation about whom he might select, and progressives within the state have listened closely for clues with the intention to develop a working list of contenders. Mastriano once referred to his alternative as a “her” and said it could be “one among the leading figures of the nation on voting integrity.” He claims the “team round her” would come with “several folks that are very knowledgeable of Pennsylvania, who’re going to get the elections cleaned up in my first 12 months.”
Their best guesses — they usually are only informed guesses — are Mastriano allies who share his fervor for the “big lie.” They include former Trump adviser Jenna Ellis, who’s now advising the Mastriano campaign; Toni Shuppe, the co-founder of Audit the Vote PA, a gaggle that sought to decertify the outcomes of Trump’s loss in Pennsylvania; and Ivan Raiklin, an associate of former Trump advisers who spread baseless conspiracy theories concerning the election within the weeks leading as much as the Jan. 6 riot.
Mastriano, a Christian nationalist who has made headlines in recent weeks for paying a well known antisemite as a campaign consultant, doesn’t engage with inquiries from mainstream news outlets and didn’t reply to a request for comment on this story.
Ellis could actually be considered a “leading figure” within the U.S. election denial movement. She joined the Trump White House as a senior legal adviser in 2019, later partnering with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to form what she called an “elite strike force team” to overturn the fair results of the 2020 presidential election.
She and Giuliani toured the country together, appearing in key battleground states ― including Pennsylvania, alongside Mastriano ― to spread conspiracy theories about voter fraud and to try to influence conservative state lawmakers that that they had the legal authority to send their very own Trump-supporting electors to the Electoral College.
Earlier this 12 months, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot subpoenaed Ellis, partly over her “direct contact with the previous President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” in accordance with a letter from committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). And earlier this month she received a subpoena from a special grand jury in Georgia regarding two legal memos she sent to Trump “advising that Vice President Mike Pence should disregard certified electoral college votes from Georgia.”
Ellis has claimed to be a “constitutional law attorney,” although a Latest York Times review of her profession shows no such expertise. She just isn’t licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.
Some Pennsylvania progressives wonder if Jenna Ellis, a former Trump adviser who has been subpoenaed as a part of multiple investigations into efforts to subvert the 2020 election, could possibly be Mastriano’s unnamed secretary of state pick. She is currently advising his campaign.
Rey Del Rio via Getty Images
When a HuffPost reporter followed Ellis on Twitter in an try and request comment for this story, she tweeted on the reporter before he could ask her a matter concerning the Pennsylvania secretary of state gig.
“Here’s my comment: Get an actual job,” she said, adding a clown-face emoji.
Shuppe, the co-founder of Audit the Vote PA, was one other subject of speculation amongst Pennsylvania progressives who spoke with HuffPost. She emerged as a distinguished member of Pennsylvania’s election denial movement after her organization led a petition drive geared toward decertifying or nullifying the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won.
Shuppe and her organization also led the charge for an audit of Pennsylvania’s election that will follow the contours of the conspiratorial Cyber Ninjas review of election leads to Arizona’s Maricopa County ― a flawed process that nevertheless didn’t unearth any real evidence of malfeasance within the state’s most populous county. Shuppe spread bogus claims that Pennsylvania voting machines had been hacked by China and has said that Biden is “no doubt an illegitimate, fraudulently installed, FAKE President.”
She has also embraced other conspiracy theories popular on the far-right, including QAnon, Pizzagate and one which claimed Wayfair engaged in child sex trafficking via its popular furniture sales, in accordance with Business Insider.
Audit the Vote PA conducted its own canvasses of several Pennsylvania counties after the election in an try and prove that widespread fraud and irregularity had occurred. But when it shared its data with LancasterOnline, a news outlet in one among the counties it canvassed, the newspaper found that Audit the Vote PA’s process was “rife with errors and speculation and that its methodology was deeply flawed, mistakes that undermine its conclusion and make its findings unreliable.” (Shuppe and Audit the Vote PA disputed that characterization in a lengthy statement on the group’s website.)
Mastriano, who traveled to Phoenix to witness the Cyber Ninjas process in person, endorsed Audit the Vote PA’s efforts to bring an Arizona-style review to Pennsylvania. Shuppe backed Mastriano’s candidacy on this spring’s GOP primary. She didn’t return a request for comment about whether she had spoken to Mastriano concerning the position or one other election-related role.
Raiklin is an Army veteran who, like Ellis and Shuppe, sought to overturn the 2020 election. Working alongside retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser within the Trump White House, Raiklin used his military experience to suggest that he had the power to suss out fraud during a pre-election forum. In December 2020, he crafted a plan called “Operation Pence Card” that called on Trump to have his vice chairman reject legitimate electoral votes, Reuters reported last 12 months.
The plan was much like the “fake electors” scheme Trump allies attempted to make use of to maintain him in power, and even though it’s unclear if Raiklin inspired it, Trump retweeted a version of it a month before the riot.
President Donald Trump’s supporters gather outside of the Wyndham Hotel on Nov. 25, 2020, where the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee was scheduled to satisfy in Gettysburg.
Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Raiklin attended Mastriano’s primary victory party in May, and he left little doubt about what he took away from the victory. “Twenty electoral votes as well,” he told Mastriano, in accordance with a video posted on Telegram and initially reported by The Washington Post. It was a transparent allusion to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes and Mastriano’s newfound proximity to power over them.
Pennsylvania observers stressed that the list of potential contenders could also be long. It could include any of the 20 people who signed on to Trump’s “fake electors” scheme in Pennsylvania, county officials who’ve refused to certify leads to this 12 months’s primary contests, Mastriano allies within the state legislature or anyone else affiliated with the “big lie” movement nationwide.
“There are not any guardrails around his appointment except that they need to be confirmed,” said J.J. Abbott, a former senior staffer for current Gov. Tom Wolf (D). “So it doesn’t need to be someone from PA. They may have never set foot in Pennsylvania.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, this week began airing television ads that hit Mastriano for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential vote. The ads accused him of wanting “to select the winner” in future Pennsylvania contests and replayed his comments about decertifying election machines.
A June poll from Suffolk University showed Shapiro ahead, 44% to 40%. The close margin has caused Republicans who initially feared that Mastriano may cost them a winnable election to fall in line behind him.
But Mastriano’s election denialism and other controversies ― including campaign payments to Gab, the far-right social media site that has served as a haven for antisemitism and right-wing hate ― could also be denting his probabilities. Shapiro led Mastriano by 10 percentage points in a Fox News poll released on Friday, and he now holds an 8-point advantage in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average.
Victory for just one among the GOP election deniers who’ve already won primaries or are expected to in the subsequent month could jeopardize the integrity of the 2024 presidential election, wherein Trump could also be on the ballot again. And due to Pennsylvania governor’s appointment powers, a Mastriano win could possibly be a double whammy for American democracy.
“He could cause a lot chaos in our elections,” Abbott said, “just by having someone there who’s off the rails.”