Doug Mastriano won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor on Tuesday, beating eight other candidates and a party establishment that had tried to head off his nomination over fears that he is too extreme to win the general election in the presidential battleground.
Mastriano, a retired US Army colonel and state senator since 2019 who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, will face Democrat Josh Shapiro in the November election.
Mastriano, once viewed as a fringe candidate, spent almost nothing on TV ads and largely shunned interviews with independent news organisations.
Instead, he connected with far-right GOP voters through appearances on conservative broadcasters, a tireless ground campaign that dotted with his yard signs and endorsing conspiracy theories, including Trump's unsubstantiated claims that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election from him.
He also emphasised his military background, Christian beliefs and hard-line conservative positions on abortion and guns.
Mastriano and Shapiro are vying for the right to succeed Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who is constitutionally term-limited after entering office in 2015.
The winner in the fall general election is likely to share power with a Republican-led Legislature, where entrenched GOP majorities have controlled the floors for nearly all of the past three decades.
Mastriano was well on his way to victory when Trump endorsed him on Saturday. In the final days of the campaign, party officials tried to consolidate support around former US Rep. Lou Barletta, the Trump-endorsed nominee for US Senate, in a long-shot bid to defeat Mastriano.
Mastriano slammed it as a backroom deal.
Mastriano, 58, represents a Senate district based in conservative Franklin County on Pennsylvania's southern border with Maryland.
Mastriano won Trump's endorsement after working with the former president to overturn his loss in 2020's election in the presidential battleground state. That earned him a subpoena from the US House committee investigating the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
He later organised bus trips to the US Capitol for Trump's January 6 Stop the Steal rally, where he was seen in footage with his wife passing through breached barricades set up by Capitol Police.
Trump endorsed Mastriano over the protests of many party officials who feared he cannot win over the moderate voters necessary to prevail in politically divided Pennsylvania.
Democrats, meanwhile, were united behind Shapiro, the state's two-term elected attorney general. Shapiro was uncontested on the primary ballot after wrapping up the endorsement of the state party and its top allies, including the AFL-CIO, and raising more than $20 million since early 2021.
Shapiro helped cement his reputation with a landmark grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse coverups inside Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic dioceses and defending Pennsylvania's 2020 election result against attempts in court to overturn it by Trump and his allies.
Shapiro tested positive for COVID-19, his campaign said Tuesday. He was experiencing mild symptoms and was isolating at home, it said.
Mastriano has insisted to supporters that he is not a far-right candidate and that his platforms including eliminating mail-in voting, expanding gun rights, banning abortion and banishing school property taxes enjoy broad support.
Rather, he says Democrats including President Joe Biden are far-left radicals while the Republican swamp is trying to defeat him. Shapiro's campaign, meanwhile, is running a TV ad portraying Mastriano as extreme and saying that if Mastriano wins, it's a win for what Donald Trump stands for.
Republican voters had to choose from among nine names on the ballot for governor, even though two Jake Corman and Melissa Hart said they had ended their campaigns and endorsed Barletta as part of a last-ditch attempt to help defeat Mastriano.
Barletta had picked up a number of endorsements by current and former Republican officeholders, including members of Congress.
Besides Mastriano, Barletta, Corman and Hart, also on the Republican ballot for governor were: Joe Gale, a Montgomery County commissioner; Charlie Gerow, a marketing consultant and longtime conservative activist; Bill McSwain, a lawyer who was the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Philadelphia; Dave White, who runs a large plumbing and HVAC firm and is a former Delaware County councilman; and Nche Zama, a retired heart surgeon who has directed units at various hospitals in Pennsylvania.