No Republicans have announced they are taking on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey next year. Yet former President Donald Trump is already talking about the upcoming campaign.

According to Politico, the prospect that state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) might enter the Senate primary is “inducing panic among GOP officials,” including Trump himself. “The former president has privately told Republicans he fears that Mastriano would hurt him in a general election if they were on the top of the ticket together next year,” Politico reports.

Mastriano told DVJournal it’s fake news.

“Politico got this wrong,” Mastriano said. “Forty-five has said nothing about this odd story to me. He has my cell number.” The number 45 is shorthand for Trump, the 45th president.

Multiple advisors with Trump’s 2024 campaign did not respond to questions about the statement.

Mastriano won a multi-candidate primary for governor last year in the face of criticism that his extreme views on abortion and cultural issues would make him a weak general election candidate. It was a view shared by Pennsylvania Democrats, who bought TV ads boosting his candidacy in the GOP primary.

In the final days of the primary, Trump endorsed Mastriano, who went on to lose the governor’s race to then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro by 15 points.

In addition to Politico’s reporting, national Republican leadership has responded cooly to reports of Mastriano’s candidacy. “We need somebody who can win a primary and a general election. His last race demonstrated he can’t win a general,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines.

On the other hand, a Public Policy Polling survey in March found strong 2024 support for both Trump and Mastriano among Pennsylvania Republicans.

Mastriano posted a Facebook video last Thursday strongly hinting he plans to enter the race.

“We’ll talk about this U.S. Senate seat that so many are speculating about me running for. The polls do have me walking away with it, hands down,” Mastriano said, dismissing his naysayers as “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only) and announcing that he and his wife Rebbie have already made a decision.

“I really don’t care about their opinion,” Mastriano said of his Republican critics. “They cannot win a primary or the general election without the base. We are the base.

“We already have a decision, have had this decision for a few weeks now, and we’ll let you know.”

If Mastriano moves to challenge Casey, who has announced he is seeking a fourth term, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

Casey is the longest-serving Democratic senator in Pennsylvania history. In his previous Senate elections, he beat two Republican challengers by double-digit percentage points and one by just under 10 percentage points.

Republican insiders are putting their hopes on David McCormick, who narrowly lost last year’s Senate primary to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. Like Mastriano, Oz had the backing of Trump and performed poorly in the general election.

In the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll, Casey leads Mastriano by 16 points (47-31 percent) in a theoretical head-to-head contest but leads McCormick by just seven points (42-35 percent).

“Taking on any incumbent is challenging,” Mastriano told DVJournal earlier this month. “Casey’s challenge is that other than running on his dad’s name, he’s an unremarkable senator who’s more interested in being a lackey for the radical left than fighting for Pennsylvania.”