HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania— In a straw poll of conservative activists from across Pennsylvania last weekend, Kathy Barnette, Doug Mastriano, Bill McSwain and Clarice Schillinger finished ahead for the statewide offices they’re seeking.

About half of the nearly 800 attendees from all around the Keystone State (and a few from nearby states) participated in the annual survey at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (PLC) in Camp Hill, just across the river from Harrisburg. Information-technology expert Scott R. Davis oversaw the survey and discussed the results with attendees Saturday afternoon.

Barnette, a veteran and political commentator, earned 35 percent of votes cast for that office at the gathering throughout Friday and Saturday. Her fellow Montgomery Countian, real-estate developer Jeff Bartos, came in second with 17.8 percent. Former Ambassador Carla Sands and former hedge-fund executive David McCormick both received roughly 14 percent and celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz got 12 percent. 

“I did have the opportunity to listen to the majority of the [GOP] Senate candidates,” Davis said, “and I will echo what I heard before I stepped on the stage. And each and every one of these candidates is going to be better than the candidate the other side puts up.” 

Pennsylvania will hold its primaries on Tuesday, May 17. The party’s nominee to fill retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat is almost certain to face either Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a former mayor of Braddock, or U.S. Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA-17) in the general election. 

Fetterman has been a doctrinaire leftist who supported Vermont independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2020. Lamb was initially elected to his Pittsburgh-area district as a moderate in 2018 but has hewed to a liberal policy agenda in office, having voted the preferred position of President Joe Biden on every major piece of legislation, according to the statistics website FiveThirtyEight.

In the PLC’s poll for Republican gubernatorial nominee, former federal prosecutor McSwain and state Sen. Mastriano (R-Gettysburg) tied for first place, each with 24 percent of attendees’ votes. Former Delaware County Councilman Dave White came in third with 15 percent, media strategist Charlie Gerow came in fourth with 11 percent, followed by former congressman and former Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta at 10 percent. These hopefuls are competing to face all-but-certain Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, who is Pennsylvania’s attorney general as well as a former state representative and Montgomery County commissioner. 

Clarice Schillinger, a former state legislative staffer from Montgomery County who headed the Keep Kids in School PAC backing numerous successful school-board campaigns in 2021, won the most votes for lieutenant governor with 18 percent. One vote behind her was veteran and retired policeman Teddy Daniels; six votes behind was former state representative and political consultant Jeff Coleman.

Schillinger told The Pennsylvania Daily Star her campaign has traveled about 22,000 miles over the last 10 weeks. The mother of two said her growing support among voters shows a response both to the way that long school closures compromised children’s education and to parents’ resulting desire for more control over how, what and where their children learn.

“It should be clear to everyone: Parents must be included in their child’s education,” she said. “That’s what happened in Virginia; that’s what’s going to happen in Pennsylvania. When we talk about parents and their child’s education, we’re not just talking about a small number of people; we’re talking about grandparents, we’re talking about taxpayers who fund these schools. It truly effects each person. And indoctrination and what’s happening with lack of transparency in curriculum – it won Virginia; it will win Pennsylvania.” 

PLC also polled its attendees about the issues facing Pennsylvania that they consider most important. Sixty-one percent of those voting said election integrity was their top priority. That was followed by 16 percent for the state budget, six percent for Marcellus Shale gas extraction and four percent for property-tax reform.

Among those polled, 86 percent said they would support an automatic audit for every election irrespective of who wins or loses. 

“I don’t think any one of us are saying, ‘Only when we lose,’” said Davis, who noted he is himself a judge of elections in Dauphin County. “We’re saying, ‘Every time.’ … If we don’t have faith in the election process, then it’s doomed. Plain and simple: it’s doomed.”  

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Doug Mastriano” by Senator Doug Mastriano.