CAMP HILL, Pa. — “I just feel like he has been chosen for this, I really do,” said Kristin Bailey, a healthcare worker from York, as she waited in line outside the Penn Harris Hotel on Tuesday evening before the election results watch party for Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania. “I think he was led to this position for a reason.”
Many waiting in line believed God would intervene for their candidate. (He didn’t.)
“I think he’s gonna win, 100%,” said Katie Grove, a florist from Chambersburg. “I think he’s gonna win because he has —”
“God on his side,” her husband, Richard, interjected. “He’s a religious man. He’s the real deal. Look into his eyes. He’s truthful. He’s honest, you know? I’ve never seen someone so honest.”
There was a blood moon in the sky, and some Mastriano supporters made half-jokes about this being a supernatural affair.
“We want a red wave,” said Susan Lorenzetti from East Berlin, referring to the hope that Republicans would take control of governors’ mansions across the country and the U.S. House and Senate. “We want a red moon and a red wave.”
Ray Krieder from Lancaster said he’d been at the Mastriano rally over in Latrobe earlier in the week when a double rainbow appeared in the sky. “Even some of the news media made mention that God must be intervening,” Krieder said, laughing. “So I think there’s a possibility there.”
Inside the hotel ballroom, simulated disco-ball lights danced across the ceiling as a couple of hundred people, mostly middle-aged and white, mingled with drinks as Fox News played on two giant screens on either side of a stage. The polls had just closed. A dead ringer for Mastriano walked around in a suit with multiple military medals pinned to his breast pocket.
“I’m Robert Mastriano,” he said, introducing himself as Doug Mastriano’s brother before explaining the medals. “I’ve been in combat. I’ve served in special operations. I’ve served in humanitarian operations. I’ve been on a Navy ship for two years. I was in charge of three anti-terror security teams. And I’ve been a lot more places than I can think of.”
Now, he’d come to Camp Hill across the Susquehanna River from the state capital of Harrisburg for his brother’s big night.
“I think he’s got God’s hand on him,” Robert Mastriano said, adding: “I don’t believe in polls.”
His brother became a national figure for not believing in election results. In November 2020, Doug Mastriano, a state senator, tried to pass a resolution in the GOP-controlled state legislature that would have overturned President Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, instead installing a slate of fake electors who would’ve thrown the election for former President Donald Trump.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Mastriano chartered buses to send supporters to the “stop the steal” rally in Washington, D.C., that became the insurrection. He was there too, marching near the Capitol building steps as hundreds of his fellow election deniers ran past police barricades.
A year later, Mastriano announced his candidacy for governor. At an event in Gettysburg hosted by believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory, he told supporters he would become governor because “my God will make it so.” A month later, Trump, repaying him for his fake electors scheme, endorsed Mastriano in the GOP primary.
He won, and in the ensuing months, he ran a shocking general election campaign for governor, refusing to talk to the mainstream press and campaigning alongside self-declared Christian “apostles” and “prophets,” all of whom claimed to speak to God, all of whom claimed God told them that Mastriano was destined for victory.
“We pray that every vote would be counted, and every effort to cheat the system will fail,” Charles Stock, one of those “apostles,” said in the opening prayer Tuesday evening. “And we pray that Pennsylvania will prosper under the leadership of its new governor Doug Mastriano, in Jesus’ name.”
The crowd cheered and amen-ed before a Christian rock band headed by Danny Gokey — a third-place finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol” who believes COVID vaccination mandates might be the biblical “mark of the beast” as stated in the Book of Revelations — took to the stage.
The band played a mix of worship songs and covers — including Huey Lewis and The News’ “Power of Love” — before Mastriano and his wife, Rebbie, came on stage briefly to say hello.
“We’re gonna change American history right here right now, this day, it’s gonna be fantastic,” he told the crowd. “We love you guys too. This movement is unstoppable.”
He and Rebbie retreated to a private room to watch the results. It wasn’t looking good.
Fox News was showing Mastriano’s Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, with a commanding lead that was refusing to shrink as more and more votes came in. There were mumblings among his supporters that Fox News was up to its old tricks — residual anger from when the right-wing news channel called the election for Biden in 2020.
Then, a little after 10:30 p.m. — as the DJ blared the joke techno anthem “Cotton Eye Joe” through the speakers — Fox News made the call: Mastriano had lost.
His supporters ambled about feeling a mixture of disbelief and denial. A group of 10 people formed a circle, held hands, and began to pray as Danny Gokey and the band launched into a cover of “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder.
Sue Robertson walked outside asking for a cigarette. Her boyfriend had just broken up with her, she said with a laugh. “He’s a RINO,” she quipped, using shorthand for “Republicans In Name Only.”
Robertson said she’d flown here on a red-eye flight from California — where she’s known as “that Trump bitch” — to support Mastriano. She claimed to have her own SuperPAC and raised a lot of money for the GOP nominee who’d just lost.
“The Democrats, obviously, they cheat,” she said. “And I’m not a QAnon person, but they’re doing something dirty — like the Dominion machines — something doesn’t make sense.” (Trump supporters falsely blamed machines by Dominion Voting Systems for his loss in 2020.)
“But we’re gonna be OK,” Richardson said as if reciting a daily affirmation. “The House and Senate are turning red. Trump’s gonna announce he’s running.” (As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still too early to know whether Republicans would take control of either chamber of Congress.)
Asked if Mastriano should concede, Richardson replied quickly. “No, never,” she said. “Because Democrats cheat. And they never concede, so why should we?”
Back inside, a couple of dozens of reporters waited anxiously in a roped-off press pit for Mastriano to come back out and make a speech. Would one of the country’s foremost election deniers admit that he lost?
The band played on. Danny Gokey was singing a different Stevie Wonder song now — “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” — as a small contingent of Mastriano die-hards danced and danced.
Among them was Julie Green, a prominent Christian “prophet.” Her bodyguards stood nearby as Green twisted and turned to the music. Earlier this year, Green claimed to receive a prophecy from God that the “angel of death” would visit multiple prominent Democratic politicians before the year’s end. She has claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “loves to drink the little children’s blood.”
And once, appearing alongside Mastriano at a QAnon event in Gettysburg, Green recited a message God had given her. “Yes, Doug, I am here for you, and I have not forsaken you,” she said, speaking as God. “The time has come for their great fall; for the great steal to be overturned. So, keep your faith in me.”
Green kept dancing. The Mastriano campaign had switched off Fox News, preferring the coverage of the far-right Newsmax. But even Newsmax was calling the race for Shapiro now.
Finally, at 11:43 p.m., Mastriano came back out on stage as his supporters chanted: “Doug for gov! Doug for gov!”
He told the crowd that his campaign was waiting until “every vote is counted.”
Mastriano said: “And so we’re going to wait patiently to see what the people of Pennsylvania have said and what the people of Pennsylvania say, we’ll, of course, respect that.”
We’ll, of course, respect that. It was as close to a concession as anyone could expect from a man who had spent two years sowing doubt about elections in the U.S.
He stayed and mingled with the crowd. Danny Gokey and the band had finally abandoned ship, so the DJ started playing party songs, like 1999’s “We Like To Party (Vengabus)” by the Dutch Eurodance group Vengaboys.
On Twitter, videos of the emptying ballroom in Camp Hill became viral bits of schadenfreude for many who’d watched Mastriano’s campaign with despair.
A little after midnight, one video showed a few dozen remaining Mastriano supporters, many sullenly sitting in chairs, as the DJ played “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley.
“Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down,” Astley sang as the disco lights circled above people’s heads. “Never gonna run around and desert you.”