At stops along the route, supporters described Shapiro as a dynamic speaker and uncompromising campaigner delivering the right message at the right time: talking about rising police and education spending and prioritizing protection individual freedoms and democracy, while highlighting its own record. to enhance its credibility.
Some supporters have even said they may one day see Shapiro run for president, a suggestion he pushed back among reporters.
Kathy O’Neil, 68, told NBC News during a campaign stop in Erie that she thinks Shapiro has “done so much for us.” Her support of law enforcement, including the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police — two groups that have backed Oz in the Senate race — also stood out for her.
“He’s a champion of the people of Pennsylvania,” she said. “I can’t say anything negative about him. But unfortunately you can’t say that about the Democrats. [at large]. I mean, I’m a Democrat. But he ran a great campaign. Look at everything he’s done. It didn’t come out of nowhere.”
At each stop, Shapiro talked about his plans if he won, including increasing funding for public education and adding mental health counselors and more vocational technology opportunities in schools, hiring 2,000 police officers and boosting green energy jobs. He highlighted his accomplishments in office, including brokering a deal among western Pennsylvania’s largest healthcare and health insurance providers, preventing disruption for area residents, and advancing an investigation that found 1,000 children in Pennsylvania had been abused by the Roman Catholic Church. (Mastriano, 58, said Shapiro had a “grudge” against the church, while some Catholic organizations believe Shapiro went too far.)
“There’s no fight too big, no mountain too high to climb,” Shapiro told Beaver. “We’ll take on all comers, including Doug Mastriano. And this guy is super dangerous, really extreme and needs to be beaten.”
Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., told NBC News ahead of Shapiro’s Beaver speech that the campaign against Mastriano is “a different breed from many,” making it hard to draw too many lessons for Democrats from other races – “except to say that Josh has spent a lot of time doing a great job as a public servant.”
“When we look at who we nominate for these big races, what personal record do they have regardless of any kind of social media cache they may have?” said Lamb, who lost to Fetterman in the Senate primary. “That could be an important lesson.”
To take on Shapiro, Mastriano struggled to raise funds and secure financial support from outside Republican groups to energize his campaign. Retired Sen. Pat Toomey, also a Republican, did not endorse his candidacy, while Oz kept Mastriano at bay. Shapiro was able to gain support from some wary Republicans who feel Mastriano is too extreme and think Shapiro is more of a moderate Democrat.
“He’s one of those unique candidates where people tend to project their own values and ideology onto him,” said Mike Mikus, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist. “If you’re a moderate Democrat, you think he’s a moderate. If you’re a progressive, you think he’s a progressive.”
But Shapiro, as Mikus said, also benefited from investing time in places across the state, including smaller, more Republican counties, during his tenure as attorney general. During a campaign stop at Clarion, Shapiro pledged to defend the “forgotten” parts of the state.
“That’s why he’s particularly strong,” Mikus said. “I mean, he might be the strongest candidate I’ve seen for governor in my life.”
Speaking on his campaign bus, Shapiro described himself as a pragmatist.
“We have to find ways to start working together again,” he said. “If you want to label it moderate or whatever word you used, I mean, you can label it whatever you want for me. I just think it’s all about pragmatism.”
His opponent charted a different course, traversing the pandemic and the aftermath of the 2020 election to lead Pennsylvania’s far-right and emerge from a deep Republican primary field that has failed to coalesce around a single alternative.
During his campaign, Mastriano suggested he could “uncertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen through the secretary of state,” whom the governor appoints, in addition to saying he could force every voter in Pennsylvania to re-register. He also likened abortion to murder and argued for strict restrictions on the procedure. He says his views are irrelevant on abortion because he can only sign what the legislature passes, but a victory for Mastriano would in all likelihood give Republicans unified control over Harrisburg, allowing them to pass new restrictions. .
In recent weeks, allegations of anti-Semitism have gained prominence in the race. This summer, Mastriano came under scrutiny for a campaign payment to far-right social media site Gab. The site’s founder has called for an all-Christian conservative movement, while the alleged attacker who killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 posted anti-Semitic rants to Gab ahead of the shooting. After Gab’s payment was discovered, Mastriano released a statement saying, “I reject anti-Semitism in any form.”
But Mastriano later drew attention for saying the Jewish school Shapiro, an observant Jew, attended was “privileged, exclusive, elite”. A senior campaign adviser called Shapiro a “secular Jew at best,” while Mastriano’s wife, Rebbie, responded to allegations of anti-Semitism last month by saying, “As a family, we love Israel so much, in fact, I’m going to say we probably love Israel more than a lot of Jews.”
During his own tour across the state over the past week, Mastriano challenged Shapiro at a rally in suburban Pittsburgh to “look me in the eye and call me an anti-Semite.”
“How do you respond to someone who says you’re anti-Semitic? Mastriano added later. “You’re on the defensive right away. There’s no way to win.”
Mastriano’s campaign against Shapiro is three-fold — tying him tightly to the Covid shutdown orders that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration enacted at the start of the pandemic; blaming Shapiro for the rise in crime in the state – saying Wednesday that the state attorney general “has blood on his hands” and “doesn’t care about anything but his own political ambition” – and putting Shapiro on the side of culture war issues that infuriate conservatives.
“Josh Shapiro represents everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party,” Mastriano said. “He’s the face of elitism. He’s the face of the law. He’s the face of political correctness.”
Where the two campaigns really contrast, however, is in how they talk about freedom. At each of Shapiro’s stops, he sought to compare his vision of freedom with that of Mastriano, whose campaign slogan is “Walk as free people” (which Mastriano says is based on a biblical text).