‘Nervous about Oz prospects’: Trump and his allies worried about Barnette win in Pennsylvania

To cast doubt on his conservative bona fide, they circulated one of Barnette’s tweets from July 2020 with the hashtags #BLM and #DefundThePolice — two rallying cries deployed by racial justice activists whose Republicans have stood up against. seized during the last electoral cycle.

But a video accompanying the tweet told a much different story. “Abolishing the police is stupid,” Barnette said tearfully on camera. “Don’t fall in love with these white liberals who come into our communities and tell us we need to cut law enforcement.”

The situation has made Trump “nervous about the prospects of Oz,” according to a Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“For the past five months, he’s been told the only threat to Oz is named David McCormick. It’s a twist that no one saw coming,” the adviser said.

Another person close to Trump who backed Oz described the situation as “a nightmare.” In interviews with CNN, this person and three other Trump allies described Barnette, who on Tuesday night won endorsements from socially conservative groups Susan B. Anthony List and CatholicVote and a seven-figure investment from the Club for Growth, as a threat. major for both. Oz and McCormick in the final stretch of the race.

In an unexpected move on Tuesday, the Club for Growth announced it would spend $1.9 million to boost Barnette on the air in Pennsylvania by the May 17 primary — a significant development for a candidate who has spent $160,000 $ on television since its launch. campaign in April 2021 in a race that has seen nearly $50 million in combined spending by his opponents and outside groups.

“I don’t think people expected Kathy Barnette to come into the middle this strong last week,” a Trump ally said. “The biggest story in the last week of this race is its momentum, and so it’s getting both earned and paid media. It’s a two-for-one.”

Barnette’s late rise in the polls has also left her opponents little time to change the way voters view her, leaving her in a less vulnerable position than Oz and McCormick, who have worked for months to run as a unflattering day.

“You can be negative with her, but you only have a week to present her in a negative way and I don’t think there’s much to it from a conservative point of view. I haven’t heard anything where I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that will be very effective,’” the Trump ally said.

Oz himself called Barnette a “mystery” during an interview on Fox’s Sean Hannity show Wednesday night, expressing concern about his eligibility amid his late campaign wave.

“She’s a mysterious person, we don’t know much about her, and we have to be able to learn, and she’s not willing to share,” Oz said.

The former president is still figuring out if he can do anything to give Oz an extra boost in the race, the Trump adviser said, noting that Trump was already planning to hold a tele-rally and to target Republican voters with robocalls ahead of the primary. Trump also held a campaign rally outside Pittsburgh last Friday, where he repeatedly ripped McCormick to turn voters against him.

“He’s absolutely the candidate for special interests and the globalists and the establishment in Washington. … David is totally controlled … by Mitch McConnell, the old crow, the broken old crow,” Trump said.

Notably, the former president did not mention Barnette once in his remarks.

Create an opening

Inside Trump’s orbit, Barnette’s rapid rise from obscurity to a legitimate contender is seen as a direct result of the mud contest that’s been going on between Oz and McCormick over the past few months. It’s a classic case of a candidate running in the middle, allies of the former president have said, with one comparing Barnette to Sen. Deb Fischer, whose stripped campaign defeated two well-funded Tea Party darlings. in the 2012 Nebraska GOP Senate primary.

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McCormick and Oz, both self-funded, have each spent more than $10 million on TV advertising so far, most of it on vicious attack ads against each other. Although Oz received official support from Trump last month, McCormick continued to raise questions about his opponent’s MAGA credentials while portraying himself as a true ally of the 45th president.

“Dave, I want to congratulate you. You have served our country well in so many different ways,” Trump could be heard telling McCormick in an old video clip featured in an ad launched by McCormick’s campaign this week.

The heated battle between Oz and McCormick playing out on Pennsylvanians’ television screens has left both men with significantly higher unfavorable ratings than Barnette, according to the Fox poll, which found 46% of Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania don’t don’t see Oz. favorably. It created a giant opening for Barnette in the final days of the race, one of Trump’s allies said.

“For four or five months now, McCormick and Oz have spent millions of dollars bombing each other. Who would you rather be?” said the Trump adviser.

Still, Barnette’s allies expect her two main opponents to direct some of their attacks at her now that she’s registered more of a threat in the polls.

“”I’m sure they’ll go after her. There’s no doubt they’ll do something about it,” said former U.S. Representative from Kansas Tim Huelskamp, ​​senior adviser to CatholicVote, who hailed Barnette as “genuinely pro-life” and claimed that she is “now within striking distance” of her competitors in an endorsement announcement on Tuesday.

“But if they do that, they’ll just draw attention to the fact that she’s what they’re trying to be: an authentic conservative and Pennsylvanian,” Huelskamp added.

As Huelskamp’s group launches a pro-Barnette text message campaign that will target church-going Catholics in the state the group has identified as anti-abortion Republicans, the other boost for Barnette will come from the purchase of Club for Growth ads.

The group’s $1.9 million publicity blitz for Barnette caught several Trump allies off guard who had expected Club for Growth President David McIntosh to keep a low profile after his relationship with the former president took a turn for the worse in the final weeks of Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary. . McIntosh had ordered the Club for Growth to continue attacking JD Vance on the air following Trump’s endorsement, though Vance still prevailed against his Club-backed opponent Josh Mandel in the end.

“That’s what really caught people’s attention, because before the Club investment, it was thought that she had some momentum but the others are going to spend millions of dollars this week and drown her out,” said said one of the Trumps. allies.

“Even when her numbers started to increase, no one expected her to have the resources to get on TV. That obviously changes if the Club is going to spend $2 million on her now,” the woman added. nobody.

Trump’s ordeal

A loss to Oz – to Barnette or McCormick – could mark the start of a tough time for Trump, who has backed several contending candidates in contested primaries this month.

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In addition to Pennsylvania, where Trump was eventually convinced to support Oz by his wife, Melania, and allies like Fox host Sean Hannity, he endorsed Representative Ted Budd in North Carolina, who is also participating in a Senate primary next Tuesday, against former GOP Governor Pat McCrory. And later this month, Trump will have multiple candidates competing in primaries across Georgia, including gubernatorial challenger David Perdue, whom Trump has personally recruited as he works to rid the GOP of elected officials — like incumbent Governor Brian Kemp — who have refused to embrace his refuted claims about the 2020 election.

With the exception of Charles Herbster’s loss in Nebraska amid several sexual misconduct allegations, Trump has been able to reasonably argue so far that his endorsement does indeed make a difference in competitive racing – clearing Vance of a possible third place to a comfortable win in the U.S. Senate primary from Ohio last week and a boost to Rep. Alex Mooney in a heated congressional primary from West Virginia this week.

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

CNN’s David Wright contributed to this story.

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