Kathy Barnette, an underdog GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, has soared in the polls and some Republicans – including supporters of her Donald Trump-endorsed celebrity opponent – aren’t thrilled.
As former President Trump proved in 2016, authentically connecting with the MAGA base is a skill money can’t buy.
The GOP primary for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat had been viewed widely as a two-man race between TV doctor Mehmet Oz and Army veteran David McCormick.
But neither candidate – despite spending a combined $28 million – has seemed to resonate with Republican voters.
- “As CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund, David McCormick wore suits, lived on Connecticut’s ritzy Gold Coast, talked up bipartisanship and described China as America’s most important ‘bilateral relationship,'” The Associated Press reported in a March profile chronicling McCormick’s attempts to appeal to Trump supporters.
- Oz, who earned Trump’s highly coveted endorsement in April, has faced scrutiny over his past support for abortion, platforming of transgender youth surgery advocates and comments promoting “critical race theory.”
- GLAAD, one of the most prominent LGBT rights groups in the country, celebrated Oz’s talk show in February 2010 for “exhibiting some of the best nationally televised conversations about gender identity.”
At a rally in Pennsylvania Friday, where Trump appeared alongside Oz, the crowd repeatedly booed the candidate.
A CHALLENGER EMERGES
Dissatisfied Pennsylvania Republicans have increasingly turned to Barnette, who’s rapidly gone from polling at 6% in April to 21% now, putting her more or less even with Oz and McCormick, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average.https://www.youtube.com/embed/z6xtY5AnJk8?feature=oembed
Barnette is widely seen as strong on hot-button culture wars issues – like abortion, race and guns – that fire up the base.
- Oz’s supporters, including former Trump administration official Richard Grenell and Fox News host Sean Hannity, have pushed back by calling out Barnette for criticizing Trump in the past.
- Grenell has taken Barnette to task for her past remarks about LGBT Americans.
- And reporters this week dug up Barnette’s old anti-Islam tweets.
At the same time, Barnette’s surge in the polls has earned her shoestring campaign last-minute institutional backing.
- The Club for Growth, an influential conservative political group, on Tuesday booked $2 million in TV ads for Barnette.
- Also Tuesday, Barnette won a prized endorsement from the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the country’s top anti-abortion organizations.
Trump commented in a statement Thursday: “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats.”
- “She has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted, but if she is able to do so, she will have a wonderful future in the Republican Party — and I will be behind her all the way,” Trump said.