Election deniers are on the Pa. ballot in 2022. Some are faring much better than expected

For some candidates in the greater Philadelphia region seeking re-election, their role in the election lies have been largely absent on the campaign trail.

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Pa. state Rep. Martina White and Pa. state Rep. Craig Staats.

Pa. state Rep. Martina White and Pa. state Rep. Craig Staats. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke; Pa. House of Representatives)

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano gained significant notoriety for his role in the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol. His state senate campaign spent thousands of dollars busing protesters to Washington, D.C.

But way before he attended President Donald Trump’s rally, Mastriano — along with dozens of other Pennsylvania state legislators — sent a letter to Congress weeks after the 2020 election calling for them to not certify the state’s electoral votes.

While Mastriano’s gubernatorial bid is flailing, in part because of his election-denying beliefs, a few of his colleagues in the greater Philadelphia region who also pushed forward election lies appear to be unscathed.

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“Certainly concern about those matters, public anger regarding what happened on January 6 still have impact in the broader electoral environment, but those issues aren’t front and center in many voters minds in Pennsylvania as Election Day comes forward,” said Chris Borick, the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

He said Democratic voters care more about this issue than Republican voters. He added that for the Republicans who see the insurrection and the election lies as a negative, many don’t know what role it should play in electoral politics going forward.

“It’s a much more confounding issue for Republicans, and that’s why I don’t think you see many Republican candidates wanting to talk about the issue [and] put it out there. And Democrats, both candidates and voters, [are] much more likely to want to bring this into the debates and the midterms than their Republican counterparts,” Borick said.

Philadelphia’s lone Republican state Rep. Martina White, who signed the letter calling for Congress to challenge Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, is not even facing an opponent.

Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding her previous decision to undermine the 2020 election.

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Trevor Southerland, executive director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee, told WHYY News in a written statement that it’s “regrettable” there isn’t a Democrat on the ballot for this seat in the upcoming election.

“Unfortunately, due to the condensed timeline of candidate qualification this year due to the redistricting process, there was less time than usual for candidates to determine if they wanted to run,” Sutherland said. “By the time a Democratic candidate threw their hat in the ring for this seat, they had to run a write-in campaign to win the primary ballot — unfortunately Rep. White also ran a primary campaign to attempt to capture the Democratic ballot line. Rep. White fell short in her mission, but unfortunately our Democratic candidate did not qualify, either.”

Northwards in Bucks County, Republican state Rep. Craig Staats, who also signed the letter, is running for re-election. While he is facing a challenger in Democrat James Miller, the incumbent is expected to win in a district long viewed as a Republican stronghold.

The district includes parts of East Rockhill, Milford, Perkasie, Quakertown, Richland, Richlandtown, Sellersville, Springfield, Trumbauersville, and West Rockhill.

Staats’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Meanwhile in Chester County, redistricting has created a competitive race between Republican state Rep. Tim Hennessey and Democratic challenger Paul Friel. Hennessey also signed the letter asking Congress to not accept Pennsylvania’s electoral results.

His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The seat covers parts of 11 municipalities in Chester County, including Phoenixville.

Friel said when he knocks on doors, the threat facing democracy comes up as an issue for some voters, but they are usually sparse on specifics.

He added that voters who have been keeping track of Hennessey’s actions find it “disingenuous” that he accepted the results of the 2020 election that returned him to office, but not the other results.

“That is the story over there. If you want to get to the primary, if you want to be a candidate on a Republican ticket anymore, it seems that that’s one path people are choosing to do is continuing to lean right and go right, which is really bad policy and really scary policy for Pennsylvania,” Friel said.

Friel supports more funding for public education, improving healthcare infrastructure, and raising the minimum wage.

But, he also wants to control extremism in Harrisburg. He is worried about the election deniers on the ballot in 2022.

“Very much true that this election, democracy is on the line, because if we’re not successful, the next election and 2024 presidential year, our votes could very much be in jeopardy,” Friel said.

Borick said he’s unsure what kind of reaction there will be to the results of the midterm elections in Pennsylvania. He imagines there will inevitably be some challenges to results by aggrieved parties.

“I’m really fascinated to see if some of the divides that we see in Republican ranks on broader perceptions of electoral processes are exacerbated a little bit by any potential post-election challenges,” Borick said. “For example, if a candidate seems to have lost overwhelmingly, and they’re still challenging, will you see people rallying around them simply because they are of that party?”

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