Mastriano and McSwain Tie for First Place in Pa. Governor’s Straw Poll, Barnette Tops Senate Race

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas:
April 5, 2022Updated: April 5, 2022

U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette took first place in a recent Pennsylvania straw poll over other Republican candidates, including Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

The poll, taken at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference held March 31 to April 2, 2022, in Harrisburg, provided a glimpse of conservative voter preferences ahead of the state’s May 17 primary.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano and Bill McSwain, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, tied for first place in the poll for governor.

Lowman Henry, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council—which runs the conference—said this is the first time since 1958 that Pennsylvania has had an open seat for both governor and the U.S. Senate in the same year.

There were 785 people at the PLC conference, the second-largest attendance in its 31-year history. Henry said he believes interest in the governor’s race is behind the strong turnout.

“Until 2020 happened, not a lot of people really understood the importance of who the governor was. I think the average person thought, ‘OK, we have a governor. Whatever,'” Henry told The Epoch Times. “But 2020, with all the draconian shutdowns we had and the way [Gov.] Tom Wolf acted as a dictator and autocrat through that whole thing, I think that that drove home to a lot of people that, who the governor is matters—sometimes even more than who the president is—to our daily lives.

“This was the first time that state government ever took away people’s liberties on a grand scale, and so I think this year, especially with an open seat for governor, people are really paying attention to who the governor is going to be,” he said.

Candidate Poll Results

Attendees were able to see interactions between candidates during policy forums, including all Republican gubernatorial candidates and all but one Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, David McCormick, who did not attend or participate.

Barnette, a military veteran and conservative commentator who worked in corporate finance, earned 127 votes in the straw poll for a solid lead over any of the other candidates.

“I think it’s reflective of what I’m seeing on the ground,” Barnette told The Epoch Times. “I believe the media and national interests are trying to steer Pennsylvania in two directions, and they are towards Oz and McCormick. Yet the people in Pennsylvania have shown they reject them. They’ve spent well over $40 million and they have gotten very little traction. I believe this poll is reflective of what I’m seeing as I travel about 1,500 miles a week.

“People are looking for substantive change. Not that Obama change, but real change that will address their very real needs. People feel squeezed and unnerved about the future and the direction of this country,” she said.

Second in the Senate poll was Jeff Bartos, the 2018 Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, with 64 votes. Carla Sands, a U.S. ambassador under President Donald Trump, took third place with 52 votes, followed by McCormick with 50 votes. Oz came in fifth place with 43 votes, and attorneys George Bochetto and Sean Gale tied for last place with nine votes each.

The governor’s straw poll results also had a tie, this time for first place.

Mastriano and McSwain each got 88 votes.

“The record crowds at our events, plus the record-setting number of petition signatures that we collected is evidence enough that we are a grassroots campaign with a clear vision for restoring freedom to our state,” Mastriano told The Epoch Times, in assessing the results.

McSwain’s campaign spokesperson, Rachel Tripp, provided The Epoch Times with the following statement.

“We are proud to have the support of PLC attendees and freedom-loving Pennsylvanians from across the Commonwealth. Bill’s strong first place tie in the straw poll reflects the momentum that has been building across all 67 counties and confirms that Pennsylvanians are ready to nominate a conservative outsider who will fight for them as Governor. A McSwain primary victory is just six weeks away,” Tripp said.

After Mastriano and McSwain was businessman Dave White in third place, with 56 votes. Republican strategist and public relations professional Charlie Gerow came in fourth place with 41 votes, followed by former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta with 36, surgeon Nche Zama with 26, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale with 20, and former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart with five. State Sen. Jake Corman came in last with four votes.

In Pennsylvania, the lieutenant governor is elected in a separate race. Because they are elected separately from the governor, sometimes the winning candidates don’t get along, while other times they are friendly and work well together. In the past, there have been measures to put the races together, but that idea has never been adopted.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf cooperated with current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the 2018 election and they campaigned together. Now, Fetterman is running a well-funded campaign for U.S. Senate on the Democratic ticket, leaving the lieutenant governor seat open.

Here is how Republican candidates for Lt. Governor fared in the straw poll.

Clarice Schillinger, an education advocate for keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic, narrowly took first place with 61 votes, edging out veteran and businessman Teddy Daniels, who received 60 votes. Former state Rep. Jeff Coleman was in third place with 55 votes, followed by state Rep. Russ Diamond with 46 votes, former state Rep. Rick Saccone with 35, state Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso with 33, New Castle Mayor Chris Frye with 20, and businessman James Jones with 15 votes. John Brown took last place with seven votes.

“I always tell people a poll is a snapshot of public opinion at a specific point in time,” Henry said. “And the leadership conference straw poll is a very accurate snapshot of the conservative base of the Republican Party, which is most of the Republican Party, so I think it gives you a pretty good idea.”

“It is not, nor does it pretend to be, a poll of the general electorate,” Henry said.

Issues Poll Results

The straw poll also looked at some issues and found that 60 percent of those polled feel Pennsylvania legislators are going off track. Only 21 percent said the state’s legislators are going in the right direction.

Election integrity, at 61 percent, was defined as the most important issue facing the General Assembly, followed by the budget at 16 percent. Marcellus Shale drilling came in third at 6 percent.

Of those polled, 86 percent said they would support the automatic audit of every election regardless of the results and 75 percent say Pennsylvania should suspend the state gas tax.

Federally, the top three issues of concern, in order, are economy and inflation at 24 percent, illegal immigration at 16 percent, and government spending, also at 16 percent.