GOP Has 'Oh S---' Moment Over Pa. Senate Candidate

Kathy Barnette, surging in polls, makes some Republicans nervous with controversial history
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2022 6:31 AM CDT
Surprise Player in Pa. Senate Race Mired in Controversy
Kathy Barnette, a Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, speaks with members of the media during a forum in Newtown, Pa., on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The race between Pennsylvania Republicans for Pat Toomey's seat in the US Senate had seemed to narrow down to two men: TV doctor Mehmet Oz and Army vet David McCormick. But as these two candidates have been going after each other with vitriolic TV ads, another candidate has had the chance "to sneak up, ignored and untouched," per Axios: Kathy Barnette, described as an "ultra MAGA" option who's had a surprise spike in the polls. That has some in the GOP nervous, with Axios framing them as having a "belated 'oh s---' moment over the previously unimaginable prospect" she could win the primary. More on Barnette:

  • Background: Barnette, originally from Alabama, is a 50-year-old Black author and mother of two who has never held office, and whose own mother gave birth to her at age 12 after she was raped, per the New York Times. That latter fact has become a cornerstone of her anti-abortion platform.
  • Controversy: Barnette has a history of Islamophobic posts and statements (while running against Oz, who hopes to be the first Muslim elected to the US Senate); has served as a superspreader of Donald Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen; and also claims a history of homophobic rhetoric, including a 2010 essay in which she called the LGBTQ rights movement "immoral and perverse."
  • Past attempts in politics: Barnette ran in 2020 for a seat in the US House of Representatives. She lost by 19 percentage points to incumbent Democrat Madeleine Dean. Barnette has still not conceded that race.
  • Who's in her corner: The conservative group Club for Growth, which has thrown $2 million her way in TV ads, and the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List, which has also offered its endorsement. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is said to be a friend, and Trump ally Steve Bannon has enthusiastically deemed her "ultra MAGA." And there are also the voters themselves, some casting a suspicious eye on Oz and McCormick, as those candidates only recently made the move to Pennsylvania. "It doesn’t look like she drove up from out of town to take a Senate seat," one local tells the Times of Barnette.
  • Who's not: Donald Trump, for one. He's supporting Oz, though he's said he'll support Barnette if she wins the primary, per NBC News. Among others who believe Barnette would be problematic for the GOP in the general election: Ric Grenell (who served under Trump as acting national intelligence director), Fox News host Sean Hannity, and Toomey, the senator leaving the Pennsylvania Senate seat open. He tells Axios, "There's a lot ... voters don't know about her. A lot."
  • What her entry into the race means: Axios frames it as a "lose-lose" situation for the GOP, with the best case being that she wins the Senate seat and gives a hard time to Mitch McConnell, who could become Senate Majority Leader if the GOP takes back the Senate. And the worst-case scenario, at least in Republicans' eyes? "She proves to be as big a liability as many fear and hands a competitive seat to the Democrats," Axios notes.
(Read more Kathy Barnette stories.)

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