Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a campaign rally at The Fuge on May 14, 2022 in Warminster, Pennsylvania.

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CNN  — 

As I noted last month, if you were looking to choose the single most important race in the country in the coming midterm elections, you could do worse than pick the one for Pennsylvania governor.

Pennsylvania has been at the epicenter of the last two presidential elections, with Donald Trump winning it narrowly in 2016 and Joe Biden doing the same four years later. And it’s expected to be among the most competitive states again in 2024.

Combine that with the fact that the governor of the Pennsylvania has wide latitude when it comes to election oversight – the governor appoints the state’s top election official – and you can begin to grasp why controlling this seat matters a whole lot.

More on governor's races

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  • That makes how Republicans have absolutely blown their chance of winning the governor’s race so far all the more astonishing.

    New polling from CNN shows state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, leading state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, by a whopping 56% to 41% margin among likely voters.

    That huge edge for Shapiro comes even as Pennsylvania’s US Senate race is much more competitive, with Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leading Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz 51% to 45% in CNN’s poll.

    People closely following the governor’s race likely aren’t terribly surprised. Mastriano, who is among the most prominent 2020 election deniers seeking office this year, has run an unusual campaign.

    As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted of Mastriano’s campaign earlier this fall:

    “As he tours the Commonwealth, Mastriano has essentially walled himself off from the general public, traveling within a bubble of security guards and jittery aides who aim to not only keep him safe, but ensure he only comes into contact with true believers. …

    “… Republican leaders around the state had hoped that Mastriano’s unorthodox campaign would evolve over the summer and begin reaching out to undecided voters. Instead, the opposite has happened. Labor Day came and went.”

    Things haven’t gotten any better since. Mastriano continues to refuse to engage with the mainstream media. And he is getting absolutely crushed on TV, too. Since Labor Day, Democrats have spent more than four times as much on ads in the race as Republicans, according to figures tabulated by CNN’s David Wright.

    Now, it’s worth noting here that Mastriano was running explicitly as the Trump candidate in the Republican primary – and won the endorsement of the former President as well.

    Meaning that beating him was no easy task. But national Republicans – perhaps unnerved by getting sideways with Trump – did very little to try to sway primary voters away from Mastriano, even as it was clear that there were major doubts about his willingness and ability to reach out beyond the hardcore GOP base in a general election.

    That decision is coming back to bite them – in a very big way.

    The Point: Losing such a pivotal race in such a closely divided state by such a wide margin would amount to something close to political malpractice.