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Pennsylvania GOP silent on audit bid

by The Associated Press | July 19, 2021 at 4:21 a.m.
FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2020, file photo, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends a hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee in Gettysburg, Pa. Former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election have been debunked by the courts, his own Justice Department and scores of recounts. Mastriano, bolstered by support from top Republican candidates, has launched a push for a “forensic investigation” of the presidential election results, a review modeled on the widely-discredited process underway in Arizona. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania, bolstered by campaign trail support from top Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, has launched a push for a "forensic investigation" of the state's 2020 election results, a review modeled on the widely discredited process underway in Arizona.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has claimed that former President Donald Trump -- who lost Pennsylvania by 80,000 votes -- "asked me" to run for governor, is the ringleader of the audit campaign and is fundraising off it.

"All I'm asking for is a transparent and thorough investigation to prove to U.S. voters that our votes were fairly counted, and that we have nothing to worry about," Mastriano wrote in the email appeal last weekend.

The effort is likely to face legal challenges and is still limited to three counties, where it is getting pushback even from Republican commissioners. But its march forward is forcing many to stop viewing it as one lawmaker's pet project and take it seriously.

The audit has fast become a litmus test in an election cycle where an open governor's office and an open U.S. Senate seat -- the political equivalent of a blue moon -- have triggered fiercely competitive Republican primaries.

That has some GOP party officials and donors squirming with discomfort, albeit quietly. Some Republicans privately worry that the spectacle of a protracted election audit is a time bomb that not only will damage the state's democratic institutions, but also the party's credibility with critical swing voters.

"Most of the Republicans I know, at the very least, have misgivings and, at worst, are like me and realize this is just really a blunder of epic proportions," said former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a centrist Republican from the Allentown area. "Why bring the Arizona clown show to Pennsylvania?"

Earlier this month, Mastriano sent letters to three counties -- including Philadelphia, a Democratic bastion and the state's largest city -- to request access to a sweeping list of information, documents and equipment, with the threat of subpoenas for holdouts.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, have vowed to fight the subpoenas in court.

Meanwhile, Mastriano has left key questions unanswered, including who will do the work, how it will be funded and where such a vast amount of documents and equipment would be stored securely.

That has not stopped candidates for U.S. Senate or governor from backing it.

Sean Parnell, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said that "half the state" not trusting the election result is a problem that can be remedied with an audit, and dismissed the official state and county audits as simply "recounts" that were inadequate to investigate allegations that something went wrong.

"And now after the fact, that people are saying, 'Hey, wait a minute, maybe there were some problems,' they just blow us all off and say, 'No, no, screw you, you don't know what you're talking about,' like, 'You're just a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists,'" Parnell told a radio show host Wednesday.

Arizona's audit of Maricopa County votes by a company whose CEO has stated support for Trump's claims has drawn withering criticism from some establishment Republicans, including those who control the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors; Cindy McCain, the wife of the late senator and GOP presidential nominee; and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Party and Senate Republican leaders have responded with silence.

Many Republicans who want to distance the party from an audit question the cost for counties to comply with Mastriano's demands or argue that it's time to focus on future elections. Some say it is highly unlikely it would uncover smoking-gun evidence of widespread fraud, or they point to a slew of GOP-led legislative hearings that, they say, already covered the topic thoroughly and produced legislation.

"At the end of the day, I don't know what you're going to achieve," said Sam DeMarco, the GOP chair of Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh.

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