Why the GOP has shunned some Republicans in key races

Three Republicans running in what should be winnable races this year have been all but abandoned by the national GOP, leaving them in limbo with just over a month to go until November’s midterm elections.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s bid for governor is failing to gain traction. In Arizona, Senate nominee Blake Masters has seen funding dry up for his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly. And in Ohio, J.R. Majewski’s challenge to the longest-serving woman in the history of the House of Representatives was hobbled last week after a national Republican campaign group pulled its advertising for him.

To be sure, all three candidates could still win in November. But right now they’re struggling, and their fellow Republicans don’t seem keen to help.


Doug Mastriano stands in front of a row of American flags at a rally.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Doug Mastriano won the May primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination easily, securing more than 40% of the vote in a crowded field. This came despite an unsuccessful effort by more moderate Republicans to consolidate around an alternative candidate, which was undercut by former President Donald Trump’s last-minute endorsement of Mastriano.

A former Army colonel, Mastriano didn’t rely on traditional advertising during the primary. Instead, he played to hard-right Pennsylvania Republican voters on social media, and won a following by opposing anti-COVID-19 efforts and supporting Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

GOP power brokers in the state were trying to stop Mastriano because they felt his views were too extreme for general election voters in Pennsylvania, a key swing state. Mastriano attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., and has sued the committee investigating the events of that day for wanting to question him. He’s also said that he would put in place new voting restrictions and has called for a complete ban on abortion.

There is also concern that if elected, Mastriano would try to throw out Pennsylvania’s election results in 2024 should the state be won by a Democratic presidential candidate.

Former President Donald Trump stands to the side of Doug Mastriano, who is standing at a podium.
Former President Donald Trump and Mastriano at the rally in Wilkes-Barre. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

The Republican Governors Association has not thrown financial support behind Mastriano, instead focusing on other races. At an event last month, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey — the RGA chairman — said the group would not “fund lost causes.”

“You have to show us something, you have to demonstrate that you can move numbers and you can raise resources,” Ducey added, in remarks recently reported by Axios.

Last week a Mastriano campaign adviser called for supporters to push the RGA to get involved in the race. Appearing in a Facebook livestream, Mastriano noted he was “really not finding a lot of support from the national-level Republican organizations.” Mastriano has avoided talking to the press, and a Saturday rally in the state capital of Harrisburg was sparsely attended.

The governor’s race was seen as winnable. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who is not running again due to term limits, is unpopular. But the Democratic nominee going up against Mastriano, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has already won two statewide races, emerged unscathed from the gubernatorial primary in which he was the only candidate, and has been a successful fundraiser, giving him a major financial edge.

While Mastriano has been mostly absent from the airwaves, Shapiro started running ads criticizing Mastriano’s positions before Mastriano had even won the GOP nomination. Shapiro explained the tactic to Yahoo News in May, saying he felt it was apparent Mastriano would win the nomination and adding, “We think there’s a clear contrast in this race and we want to make sure we’re out in front highlighting those differences and getting a jump on the general election.”

Josh Shapiro holds up a cellphone in front of himself and a woman to record a video message.
Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for governor, at Franklin County Democratic Party headquarters on Sept. 17 in Chambersburg. (Marc Levy/AP)

Jim Wertz, the Democratic Party chairman in Erie County, told Yahoo News that he’s had some Republican donors approach him at events asking how they could help Shapiro. Erie is one of the state’s most important swing counties, with Trump winning it in 2016 while winning the state and Joe Biden doing the same in 2020.

“It’s a real sign of trouble for the Republican Party that they continue to nominate characters that a sizable portion of the party can’t support or defend,” Wertz said. “That said, we take nothing for granted. There is still a large contingent of election deniers and insurrectionists in the heart of the Republican Party, and we can’t ignore their enthusiasm for extremist candidates and how that might affect the outcome of these midterm races.”

The Mastriano campaign did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

Recent polling on the race has been both sparse and varied: While some surveys show Shapiro with a double-digit lead, others have Mastriano within a few points.


Blake Masters speaks into a microphone.
Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters at a rally on July 22 in Prescott, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Blake Masters won a crowded GOP Senate primary thanks in large part to the financial backing of billionaire Peter Thiel and Trump’s endorsement. But since August, the fundraising gap between Masters and his opponent, Democratic incumbent and former astronaut Mark Kelly, has only grown.

Thiel and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fought over who should be on the hook for backing Masters in the general election. As a result, a super-PAC aligned with McConnell canceled nearly $10 million in booked advertising across television, radio and digital last week. Thiel’s super-PAC, meanwhile, has bought ads supporting Masters, but Thiel himself has been reluctant to spend more of his personal fortune on the rookie candidate.

As of the most recent filings, Kelly had raised $52 million versus $4 million for Masters.

Masters, a 36-year-old venture capitalist who has worked closely with Thiel for years, won a contentious primary for the GOP nomination by hewing close to Trump. Masters has promoted the conspiracy theory that Democrats are plotting to win elections by “importing” immigrants to replace native-born voters; called the Jan. 6 Capitol riot a “false flag operation,” claiming that “one-third of the people outside of the Capitol complex on January 6 were actual FBI agents hanging out”; has blamed “Black people, frankly” for America’s “gun violence problem”; and has suggested privatizing Social Security.

Masters has been particularly hard-line on abortion, calling for a federal personhood amendment, which would criminalize the procedure nationwide.

Senator Mark Kelly talks with reporters.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in the U.S. Capitol on July 27. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Last year Masters said support for abortion rights had become “demonic” and likened the procedure to “religious sacrifice.” Yet amid waning polls and fundraising numbers, Masters scrubbed his website of extreme language pertaining to reproductive rights last month. Abortion remains a key issue in Arizona, where a judge ruled last week that a near-total ban dating back to an 1864 law should go back into place.

According to a recent New York Times report, Masters was in Washington, D.C., last week at an event with McConnell pressing potential donors, saying, “We don’t need as much money as Kelly, just enough to get the truth out.”

Polling earlier this month showed Kelly with double-digit leads on Masters, but two recent surveys indicated the race has tightened. Both the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and University of Virginia Center for Politics give Kelly the edge and have the race rated as “lean Democrat.” In their decision to move the race from a toss-up toward Kelly last week, Cook analyst Jessica Taylor wrote that Masters was emblematic of candidates “beset by problems and anemic fundraising.”


J.R. Majewski stands onstage at a rally.
Republican congressional candidate J.R. Majewski at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 17. (Tom E. Puskar/AP)

Republican groups were fully behind Majewski in his race to defeat Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who represents the Ninth District, which runs along the state’s northern border with Lake Erie. Kaptur became a top Republican target earlier this year when a redrawn Ohio map made her district significantly more Republican.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy campaigned with Majewski in August, and the political novice spoke at a Trump rally earlier this month. All of this support came despite Majewski’s attendance of the Jan. 6 rally and his ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

However, last Thursday, multiple outlets reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee had withdrawn a nearly $1 million ad buy. The day before, the Associated Press reported that Majewski had misrepresented his military service. According to military records, he was primarily stationed at an Air Force base in Japan but served a six-month deployment in Qatar loading planes to support the Afghanistan war effort in 2002.

J.R. Majewski shakes hands with a veteran at a VFW event.
Majewski, right, at the VFW Post 2529 annual corn roast in Sandusky, Ohio, on Aug. 20. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

This is in contrast to the language of his campaign, where he refers to himself as a “combat veteran,” and a biography published by national Republicans, which refers to him as part of a “squadron [that] was one of the first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11.” The AP also found that Majewski had likely exaggerated his professional experience, unable to find evidence to support his claim that he was an “executive in the nuclear power industry.”

Majewski has said the AP report is incorrect. At a press conference Friday, he said that his deployments to Afghanistan were “classified,” he had photos of himself in Afghanistan he might share and he was considering suing the AP over the story.

“Let me be clear,” Majewski said. “Anyone insinuating that I did not serve in Afghanistan is lying. I served in our United States of America, across multiple countries in many roles, but that didn’t matter to the liberal media, who wrote a politically motivated hit piece on me.”

Kaptur's campaign released a statement saying the appearance “left Ohioans with more questions than answers.”

“His misleading claims need to be addressed, and it’s incumbent upon him to provide honesty and clarity — not continued evasiveness and deflection,” said campaign manager Kyle Buda. “He has provided no evidence refuting these reports, and Ohioans need to know the truth.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur speaks into a microphone.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, at the VFW corn roast. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Kaptur has also taken pains to separate herself from national Democrats in her newly drawn district that Trump would have won by 3 points if it had been in place in 2020. In August she even released an ad criticizing President Biden for his China policy.

“Marcy Kaptur: She doesn’t work for Joe Biden; she works for you,” the ad says.

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Mary Altaffer/AP, Rick Scuteri/AP, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images