Trump looms large in Pennsylvania’s GOP primaries in 2022

“I’m a guy that I call it like I see it,” Parnell said in an interview about his criticism of Trump back then. “You know, I do everything I can to call balls and strikes. I stand up to my party when I think that they’re wrong. And I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe.”

Trump’s policies, by and large, were good for the country, Parnell said, and he grew to support what Trump represented after he saw Trump’s popularity in Pennsylvania that year.

Parnell and Barletta both say they want Trump’s endorsement, but aren’t necessarily making their campaigns strictly about Trump: Their introductory campaign videos never mention him.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Doug Mastriano — who has all but declared his candidacy for governor — is dangling himself as Trump’s preferred candidate.

A Trump adviser has stressed that Trump has made no endorsement. Some Republican Party officials doubt Trump will make an endorsement in a contested primary if it isn’t clear who will ultimately win it.

No politician wants to back a loser, they say.

An endorsement-free primary might be fine for Republican candidates who hope to capitalize in areas where Trump is less popular.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a critical mass of Republicans voted against Trump, helping Joe Biden to victory in November.

“In southeastern Pennsylvania, Donald Trump’s endorsement would probably hurt a candidate as much as help them,” said Jackie Kulback, chair of the Cambria County GOP. “I mean, Pennsylvania is like two different worlds.”

Another headache for Republicans is getting many of Trump’s voters to vote in elections when Trump isn’t on the ballot.

That is a worry in 2022, and even party officials who support Trump acknowledge that attracting Pennsylvania’s moderate voters will be critical to general election victories.

“You can be the meanest, most hardcore, go-get-’em Make America Great Again, radical Republican, and you can win a primary,” said Dave Ball, Washington County’s GOP chair. “But you can’t win a general election because you can’t pull in the center. … I don’t care how you cut it. You need votes.”

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