McSwain wanted Trump’s support in the Pa. governor race. He got an anti-endorsement instead

William McSwain speaks during a news conference

In this Friday, July 12, 2019, file photo, then U.S. Attorney William McSwain speaks during a news conference in Lancaster, Pa. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

Donald Trump has made his first endorsement in Pennsylvania’s crowded Republican primary for governor: vote for someone who isn’t Bill McSwain.

McSwain, who served as U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania’s Eastern District under Trump, and who has frequently sought to stress his close affinity for the former president, is “a coward, who let our country down,” according to Trump, who went on to say that McSwain did not do enough to stop “massive” fraud in the 2020 election.

There has never been evidence of any such fraud, though that hasn’t stopped Trump and his supporters — including top Pennsylvania Republicans — from conducting interminable investigations in hopes of finding some.

McSwain’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the anti-endorsement.

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Like every other candidate in the Republican primary, McSwain has struggled to distinguish himself in a packed field. One of the tactics he — and most of the other candidates — have leaned on is stressing their affiliations with Trump.

For McSwain, that attempt at appealing to Trump supporters began even before he launched his campaign.

Before the 2020 election, the then-U.S. Attorney issued a pointed statement saying he intended to watch carefully for potential election issues. He ultimately didn’t file any fraud cases, because there was no evidence fraud had happened.

Ahead of his formal campaign announcement, however, McSwain sent a widely-discussed letter to Trump — which Trump promptly publicized — asking for Trump’s support and claiming that former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr had prevented him from publicizing his concerns about election “irregularities.”

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Barr strongly disputed McSwain’s re-telling, calling his letter “deceptive,” and saying McSwain was simply trying to keep Trump from publicly insulting him.

This episode seems to be at the heart of Trump’s non-endorsement. In his statement — which was released, as most of his public communiques have been since he was banned from most social media, by his Save America PAC — he wrote that McSwain “said Barr told him not to do anything (because Barr was afraid of being impeached by the Democrats), but he should have done his job anyway.”

It’s unclear how Trump’s anti-endorsement will affect the race.

Some party insiders say the former president’s thoughts are invariably important in close elections. Liz Havey, who chairs the GOP committee in populous Montgomery County, one of the places where McSwain is best-known, said she thinks Trump’s directive “will be impactful.”

Others have lately been more skeptical of Trump’s continued ability to control GOP voters, and of his wisdom about the crucial Pennsylvania races for governor and U.S. Senate. After the former president endorsed TV doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, party leaders in Cambria and Washington Counties told the Washington Examiner they thought the move was out-of-touch with voters’ preferences in Western Pa.

Polling in the GOP gubernatorial primary has generally shown McSwain lagging behind State Sen. Doug Mastriano — one of Pennsylvania’s chief progenitors of election misinformation — and former congressman Lou Barletta, who has long had a close relationship with Trump. Former Delaware County Councilman Dave White has also had relatively strong poll numbers.

But McSwain has consistently been one of the best-funded Republican candidates.

By the end of the most recent financial reporting period, in late March, his campaign had brought in more than $2.2 million in donations and spent just $546,000 of it. In itself, that’s not exceptional — several other candidates have similar cash.

But that money was significantly bolstered by a school choice PAC that is funded almost exclusively by billionaire Jeff Yass, the professional gambler turned powerful Wall Street trader who was, as of last year, Pennsylvania’s richest person.

The Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, which runs the PACs through which Yass funnels most of his campaign cash, endorsed McSwain in January. In the most recent reporting period, one of those PACs, the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, pumped more than $5.9 million into ads and mailings on McSwain’s behalf.

At least so far, the money has been far from decisive. Barletta and Mastriano have both raised far less money than the closest three lower-polling contenders in the race.

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