How Trump’s Endorsement of Oz Gave Kathy Barnette an Unexpected Opening in Pennsylvania

“As much as people support Trump, hey, it’s not God,” said Gary Smith, chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Constitutional Republicans in Jefferson County, who personally plans to vote for Barnette. “He made a mistake. I think that’s one of the worst mistakes he’s made in his endorsements, because Oz is everything we’re not.”

Smith added, “This is Trump country. A year later, all the signs are still there. … But I’d say right now 90% of our group is probably going to vote for her.”

Barnette’s campaign was a surprising success in the final months of the primary, according to top Pennsylvania Republican agents and county officials, many of whom were impressed with the durability and strength of the author’s candidacy and commentator in the Senate in the face of unparalleled money.

That perseverance was rewarded this week when a series of Republican groups announced they would provide Barnette with last-minute financial support. Club for Growth, a leading Republican super PAC, earmarked nearly $2 million worth of ads in Barnette’s name on Tuesday, according to ad tracker AdImpact. And two anti-abortion organizations — the super PAC arm of Susan B. Anthony List and CatholicVote — announced on Tuesday that they support Barnette. Both groups now plan to use their extensive national networks to help the Conservative candidate.

While the two top Republicans in the race, Oz and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick, self-fund their campaigns and spend millions on TV ads, Barnette has crisscrossed the Commonwealth in relative obscurity, staging events with a range of Republican groups, spending little money on television and winning over many activists who will make up the electorate in Tuesday’s primary.

“She goes out in public, attends these events, and meets, not just committee members, but local Leigh residents,” Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairman Joe Vichot said of Barnette, who recently eclipsed his better-funded rivals by winning the county party’s straw poll.

Vichot said while there is a subset of the party that will vote for whoever backs Trump, many aren’t as tied to the former president’s backing as they are looking for someone they believe embodies the ‘former president.

“That resonates,” he added, noting questions about Oz’s conservative credentials. “Some people will vote for Oz because Trump says so, but that’s not always the case. They love what Trump has done and they love what he stands up and fights for. That’s what she has. .”

A new Fox poll released on Tuesday showed a wide open primary with Oz at 22%, McCormick at 20% and Barnette at 19% – within the survey’s margin of error – and 18% undecided Republican voters. Barnette’s standing was up 10 points from where it was in Fox’s March poll. And if Barnette can benefit from the two top candidates focusing closely on each other and picking up an upset victory in Tuesday’s primary, it will be partly because of the backlash over Trump’s decision to endorse Oz.

“MAGA doesn’t belong to President Trump,” Barnette said during a recent debate on why she didn’t get the former president’s endorsement. “Although he coined the word, MAGA actually belongs to the people. Our values ​​have never, ever changed to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who changed and aligned with our values .”

It’s a strategy Barnette has had for months. Smith recalled Barnette telling him in October 2021 that his strategy was to embrace Trump and fill the void once top candidates pelted each other with negative ads.

“She was like, ‘I’m going to let the top three fight and them, I’m going to slip in and win,’” Smith recalled. “And I think that girl is going to slip in like that Kentucky Derby winner just did. It’s going to be tight…but I think she’s going to pull it off.”

From the 2020 defeat to the upstart senatorial campaign

Barnette is relatively new to elected politics and her campaign book and website contain few details of her Commonwealth ties. She ran unopposed in a 2020 Republican congressional primary, only to lose to Democrat Madeleine Dean by 19 percentage points for a congressional seat in suburban Philadelphia.

In her 2020 book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America,” Barnette details how she “grew up on a very small farm in southern Alabama in a one-stop-sign town. “, in a house without running water and an outbuilding.

During a recent debate, Barnette – a mother-of-two who chose to homeschool her children – also said she was a “by-product of rape” when a man 21-year-old impregnated his 11-year-old mother. She said she turned the trauma into the life she has now, using it to relate to voters who oppose abortion.

The book goes on to detail Barnette’s views on being a conservative, how she associated being black with being a Democrat — “I was born into the Democratic Party as much as I was born into the brown skin,” she wrote — and how Trump’s 2016 campaign and appeal to black voters informed his views on conservatism.

Of her “filthy poor” upbringing, Barnette’s website says she would graduate from college, serve 10 years in the Army Reserves, and go on to work and teach corporate finance. It does not detail Barnette’s ties to Pennsylvania, or when she moved to the state.

What Barnette’s campaign lacked in funding — she spent a paltry $160,000 on TV ads, compared to $13 million for Oz and $12 million for McCormick — made up for in energy. County officials told CNN that Barnette is, by far, the most responsive of Senate candidates, often attending events in rural parts of the state and spending time with activists and voters. Barnette’s spots also focus more on issues like rising prices than destroying his opponents.

“I know what matters most to you and your family because I am you,” she said in a recent video. “Everything is in place. Our ability to live is squeezed. Biden did this.”

Barnette also championed far-right positions popular among Republican activists. She’s proudly skeptical of the coronavirus vaccine — her Facebook photo features a sign: ‘HIRING THE UNVACCINED’ — and she said politicians on both sides of the aisle “allowed COVID-19 to prevail over the Constitution”.

She also regularly sprinkles her stump speech with baseless claims about voter fraud in 2020, arguing that the Republican Party should “absolutely not” stop talking about the last election and sometimes arguing that there were “irregularities” in his crushing loss in Congress.

She endorsed Senator Doug Mastriano’s candidacy for governor. Mastriano is one of the Commonwealth’s most vocal supporters of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Mastriano, who polls show is the leading Republican in the governor’s primary, returned the endorsement in return, backing Barnette and the two have since campaigned together.

“Because you are a liberal”

Even though Barnette chose not to make her main opponents the focus of her campaign, she regularly accused Oz and McCormick of being fake conservatives who, to win a Senate seat, moved to Pennsylvania for the primary. The two top Republicans have been squarely accused of being rug baggers: Oz, until recently, lived in New Jersey, and McCormick resided in Connecticut.

The strategy has clearly gotten under their skin – especially Oz.

At a forum in March, Barnette persisted in his attacks on Oz, saying the race was “not a talk show” and that Pennsylvania voters “need people who understand what the issues are and who don’t just sit in a room, learn our talking points, and then come back and repeat them to us.” She went on to say that Oz had spent his entire career trying to be a “liberal working alongside Oprah and Michelle Obama.”

Oz erupted at the comment, given forum rules stating that contestants weren’t supposed to attack each other. Oz, trying to turn the tables on Barnette, used his conclusion to ask, “You should all be wondering, why is everyone attacking me?”

Barnette, imperturbable, interrupted him: “Because you are a liberal.”

It’s that combativeness — something many Trump supporters associate with the former president — that won over many of Pennsylvania’s more conservative voters, as well as the desire to run.

“She came across as the real deal,” said Donna DePue, vice president of the Wyoming County Council of Republican Women, a group Barnette spoke to in late April.

Barnette’s campaign, say his supporters, revealed a lack of grassroots enthusiasm for Oz or McCormick, a problem that was exacerbated by Trump’s decision to back – wrongly, in their eyes – the TV doctor.

“It has helped her. I hear very few people in this county or surrounding rural counties who are excited about Oz or McCormick, neither. They are very disappointed that President Trump approved,” said DePue, who added that while Republicans will support either general election candidate, he may be reluctant.

That was clear when the Susquehanna County Agricultural Bureau recently sent all Senate candidates an invitation to their spring meeting. Barnette was the Senate candidate to accept the invitation, said David DeLeon, chairman of the northeast Pennsylvania county agricultural bureau.

Barnette showed up at the event and spent about an hour with the group, socializing with the members and giving a speech about her rural upbringing and views on politics.

DeLeon, who plans to vote in the Democratic primary, said while they sent letters to each candidate, they only received a return sender from one – Oz – a first for the group. .

“If you had asked me (would Barnette win) two weeks ago, absolutely not, no chance. Today there is a chance now, absolutely,” DeLeon said. “All I see on TV all the time is McCormick and Oz, McCormick and Oz. … There’s the possibility of the two big bucks splitting in the middle and that allows someone to sneak in .”

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