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Once a demure presence next to her husband, Rebecca Mastriano has emerged a central figure on the campaign trail as her husband, Doug Mastriano, vies to win the race for governor. The Franklin County state senator is almost always accompanied by his wife, who these days delivers speeches and gets crowds going. They were photographed here in early September at the “Save America” rally for Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre. (Mark Pynes | pennlive.com, file)Mark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com

Gone were the frumpy jeans and the disheveled hair pinned to the back of the head.

When Rebecca Mastriano recently walked onto the stage with her husband at a political rally in Scranton, she was far more polished than the modest profile she had cut on the campaign trail over the summer.

Mastriano wore her chestnut-colored hair down; her lips bore the faintest hint of lip gloss. Her blue dress fell below her knees and on her right lapel she wore a rhinestone-studded pin that glinted “MASTRIANO.”

Since her husband, Doug Mastriano, garnered the Republican nomination for governor, Rebecca Mastriano has assumed a far more public role.

Until recently, Rebbie – as she is widely known – had remained in the background, engrossed in a slew of church-related activities around her Franklin County home, while her husband, in his first term as state senator, focused on his career.

The 61-year-old former Army wife hasn’t always seemed comfortable on spotlight, but these days she is animated the moment she steps up on the stage, riling up the audience with loud whoops and thumbs-ups. She pumps her fists up in the air and nods in exaggerated approval as he rails against the policies of Democrats and vows to – through God’s intercession and revelations – restore freedom, liberty and the vision of founding fathers.

“Republicans do believe in women’s rights,” she said on stage in Scranton a few weeks ago, bifocals perched on the bridge of her nose.

“We believe in a woman’s right to be born,” Rebbie Mastriano said. “We believe in a woman’s right to have a say in her child’s education.”

She reels off a list of conservative talking points, on issues of border security, the First and Second Amendments and the hot-button issue of transgender athletes competing in scholastics sports.

“And you all are more intelligent than the people on the left because you all can understand what a woman is,” Rebbie Mastriano said.

Doug Mastriano has all but excluded mainstream media from his campaign and mostly confined his comments to far-right outlets and online platforms.

PennLive made repeated requests to interview Rebbie Mastriano, her husband, his campaign and other Republican leaders in Pennsylvania for this profile, but received no response.

The public persona of the Mastrianos is collected in snippets that bleed out of their public appearances, social media posts, and Rebbie’s own online Christian devotionals and fellowships.

“I couldn’t tell you one thing about his wife besides that they have kids,” said Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican political consultant. “I don’t know anything about her. I don’t know anything about Josh Shapiro’s wife either. I don’t think we know anything about the presumptive first ladies and while I don’t think that’s a very strong determinant, you certainly want to know who the next first lady is.”

What is widely known about Rebbie Mastriano is her devotion to her extreme-right brand of evangelical Christianity.

Mastriano homeschooled the couple’s only son, Josiah, now in his mid-20′s. In recent years, she has increasingly devoted more time to church duties.

She served as a chaplain at Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, hometown Chambersburg’s economic mainstay, which has propped up her husband’s political career as his biggest donor, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaigns.

The Martins, who did not respond to requests for an interview, like the Mastrianos follow a conservative Christian faith. Mastriano landed the job at Martin’s through Marketplace Chaplains, where she also was a chaplain serving area companies.

Mastriano was a leader with Protestant Women of the Chapel, an Army ministry for women seeking to share prayer, fellowship, and spiritual growth.

In recent years, she has served as deaconess, a Sunday school teacher and a leader for Bible, youth and music ministries for her church, Pond Bank Community Church in Chambersburg, according to her bio for the 2019 Chambersburg Mennonite Church Pastors’ Conference. She was a featured speaker at the conference.

Rebbie streams online devotionals such as the one on Facebook entitled Rebbie’s Weekly Devotional; and she recently led an online devotional for the Pennsylvania Bike Rally For Freedom.

Doug Mastriano animates his stump speeches with messianic religious metaphors, peppering conservative political rhetoric with biblical narratives about warfare, and calling himself a warrior in God’s army.

Rebbie does much the same. Indeed, the couple’s Christian identity has not only fueled and defined Doug Mastriano’s campaign, it defines who they are.

“If our marriage was not strong, we would not be able to be doing what we are doing,” Rebbie Mastriano said in August during one of her online Christian devotion sessions. “That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It doesn’t mean we don’t have areas we need to work on.”

She said they have invested time and effort into keeping their marriage strong by “doing devotions and through trying to spend time together.” That, she noted in her August online devotional, has been a challenge.

The Mastrianos have had their rough patches, she admitted, but God has been “impressing” on her to endure those times and encourage others to do the same.

“I guarantee you there’s nobody that’s married that hasn’t had rough seasons,” said Rebbie Mastriano, noting her upcoming 35th wedding anniversary. “That’s part of being married and through that on the other side we come through stronger. I encourage perseverance and I encourage not giving up.”

Perhaps nothing signals her views on her belief about a woman’s role in her marriage as much as her reference to Ephesians Chapter 5 during the August online devotional:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” the passage states. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

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Rebecca Stewart Mastriano shown here as a child with younger sister Tracy Stewart Koven was raised Presbyterian The family lived in Sharpsville a rural Mercer County community that borders Ohio and attended church every Sunday Koven said she doesn8217t recognize her sister for her extreme religious and political views Photo submitted to PennLive

Rebecca Stewart Mastriano was born on Dec. 19, 1961 in Sharpsville, a small rural Mercer County community that borders Ohio.

Rebbie grew up the middle child among three sisters, separated by nine years from her older sister, Sherry and three years from her younger sister, Tracy Koven.

Koven remembers a close kinship with her sister, whom she described as a quiet bookworm, who tore through “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and was a big fan of the 1970s rock group, the Bay City Rollers.

“She was a little shy,” Koven remembers.

The Stewart girls were raised Presbyterian and went to church every Sunday. They attended public schools in their rural community; and like other teenagers, went to concerts and dances.

About three years after graduating from Sharpsville High School in 1979, Rebbie enrolled at Eastern College, a Christian school outside Philadelphia, where she majored in psychology. She also met Doug Mastriano there.

Koven said her sister’s relationship with Doug Mastriano started as a friendship. She had had several boyfriends and had been engaged prior to meeting him; the friendship soon got serious.

Before long, Rebbie dropped out of school to marry him.

By then she had started to attend a new church, which Koven described as far more full of “praise and evangelical leaning” than they had known as Presbyterians.

By the time Doug was deployed during the Gulf War, their conservative Christian faith was deeply embedded in their marriage.

Doug Mastriano believes that his wife’s firebrand devoutness saved his life on the battlefield and turned the tide for the U.S. allies.

In May 2021, in a rare moment of media access granted by Doug Mastriano, he explained to The New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold the power of his wife’s prayerful “spiritual warfare” in helping his unit push back Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

Mastriano believed, Griswold wrote, that an ensuing sandstorm which led to the enemy’s defeat and ceasefire was a miracle, and evidence of his wife’s spiritual power.

Rebbie Mastriano seemed to put behind her the Presbyterian upbringing.

“I think they’ve gotten swept up in the extremism of religion,” said Koven, who lives in Los Angeles and admits to being estranged from her sister. She last saw her in 2018 when their mother died. Their father died in 2011.

“Her values became very far right,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s a healthy far right. It’s pretty extreme. I think they’ve been swept up in a lot of things I personally don’t agree with. My sister and I have very different views of the world.”

The Mastrianos moved to Chambersburg in 2012 after he landed a teaching assignment with the U.S. Army War College in neighboring Cumberland County, and they purchased a home in Greene Township.

Less than six years later, his Army career coming to a close, Doug Mastriano seized an opportunity to enter politics, winning a vacant state Senate seat.

Few people outside his district knew him, but that all changed in 2020 when Doug Mastriano emerged the state’s standard bearer in the movement against pandemic lockdown mandates and the election denial movement led by former President Donald Trump.

He organized six buses to attend the rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rebbie Mastriano was by his side. Doug Mastriano crossed police barricades during the riot, although he says he never went into the building.

Since then, Mastriano has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee, come under fire for association with white supremacist organizations and the far-right social media platform Gab and posing in a Confederate uniform for a group photo at the Army War College.

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Rebbie Mastriano a prospective Pennsylvania first lady has emerged a forceful presence on her husband8217s campaign Joe Hermitt | jhermittpennlivecom file

Koven struggles to reconcile the public image of her middle sister with the person she once knew intimately. Just about everything about her contradicts the person she once knew, she said.

Almost 20 years ago, Koven, who was divorced, was about to remarry when her sister gave her an earful about how in God’s eyes she was still married to her first husband and shouldn’t marry again.

The couple’s church aligns with the Conservative Mennonite Conference, which espouses a traditional view of marriage. It considers divorce a sin, opposes abortion rights, war, hatred and racism.

Koven recalls telling her sister that if she really believed that about her impending marriage, she shouldn’t attend the wedding. The Mastrianos did not attend.

“She’s always right,” Koven said. “She likes to tell you what to do and it’s her way, the right way and then you juxtapose that with Trump who’s been married three times and she has no problem with that.”

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Pond Bank Community Church Pastor Jeremy Lehman and his wife, Sabrina, sing songs of worship during Doug Mastriano’s primary election celebration. (AP Photo/ Carolyn Kaster, file)AP

Leading up to the 2020 election, Koven and her sister exchanged tense text messages.

The chasm between them had grown. Koven did not agree with Doug Mastriano’s politics.

“It’s like if you are not a Republican or a Christian and with her exact point of view, you don’t count,” Koven said. “I had a lot of heated discussions with her about some things.”

Koven admits she is the odd man out. The older sister, whose husband is Jewish, has mended ways with the middle sister and now supports the Mastriano campaign.

“I’m the outcast at this point,” said Koven, a registered Democrat. Koven said she is supporting Shapiro for governor.

“Pennsylvania is very near and dear to my heart. That’s where I grew up,” she said. “I have never donated to a political campaign before but I’m donating to Josh’s and really hope he is the next governor.”

In the meantime, Rebbie Mastriano says feels threatened. She feels under attack for her Christian outlook, she told her online audience, invoking Satan while speaking of her enemies.

“I do feel we are greatly under attack,” Rebbie Mastriano said. “As far as being attacked for our conservative values. We are under attack for our families, our children, moral issues and under all those attacks all that comes against marriages are also highly important to our enemy Satan to attack because if we have strong marriages, we have strong families, and if we have strong families, we are going to have a strong community and we are going to have a strong state and nation.”

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