Influential Republicans in Washington and among the party’s elite nationally are having a belated “shit” moment over the previously unimaginable prospect that Kathy Barnette could win their party’s nomination for the vacant Pennsylvania Senate seat.
Why it matters: In Barnette, which has soared in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would be dealing with a general election candidate who would be an opposition scholar’s dream, which could jeopardize the GOP’s effort to win back the Senate.
- McConnell has become obsessed with ensuring that the 2022 midterms are not a repeat of the 2012 or 2010 cycles.
- The Kentuckian said Republicans missed good chances of winning majorities in those years because they ran candidates who talked about things like “legitimate rape” or had to publicly assure voters they weren’t witches.
- Barnette’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Barnette has skyrocketed after releasing a powerful video — “It wasn’t a choice. It was a life.” – In which she poignantly talks about how her mother was raped when she was 11, yet Barnette is the living byproduct of that horrific circumstance.
- The video shocked primary voters in Pennsylvania, a source close to one of Barnette’s rivals told Axios, and gained resonance after the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
- Barnette is also the rare black Republican candidate.
At the same time, a brief review from her Twitter account, @Kathy4Truth, appeared tweets like this: “I just confronted a Muslim today.”
- She joins Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens, whose alleged misdeeds are numerous and graphic, on a list of potential Republican Senate candidates who give the GOP leadership acidity.
- Not only do they create the potential to wreck winnable seats, they are also unmanageable for McConnell should he return as Senate majority leader next year.
Between lines: The last few days have brought a savage fight to destroy Barnette. Republican agents were slow to realize his political possibilities.
Most had viewed the Pennsylvania Senate race as a two-man battle between celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO and Army veteran David McCormick.
- Oz and McCormick, and their outside operations, have spent millions bombarding each other with malicious commercials that saturate Pennsylvania television.
- Oz has attacked McCormick for being soft on China, and McCormick has criticized Oz for his previous comments supporting abortion and gun control.
- That two-man publicity war hurt both candidates and provided a rare opportunity for Barnette to sneak up on her, ignored and untouched.
- Neither his rival nor his sponsors have spent much money on television to promote his record of comments that would normally disqualify a candidate in a general election, if not a Republican primary.
While Oz and McCormick attacked each other — and while former President Trump was endorsing Oz and criticizing McCormick — Barnette has slipped through the carnage.
- He had virtually no money, but he gained traction with the Republican base by relentlessly exaggerating Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election.
Trump ally Steve Bannon described Barnette as an “Audience Favorite” for his “War Room” podcast, which is popular with the MAGA base.
He praised her for continuing to speak out about decertifying Biden’s 2020 election and for refusing to concede her own defeat in a 2020 House race.
- “The reason he has struck a chord is that he NEVER admitted defeat in the House race,” Bannon told Axios in a text message. “Pennsylvania is MAGA vs. ULTRA MAGA.”
- Barnette is also close to pillow businessman and “Stop the Steal” frontman Mike Lindell. She and she is effectively running with Pennsylvania’s leading gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
- He went to the Capitol on January 6 and has been subpoenaed by the investigative committee. (Mastriano says that he left before the building was broken).
A Barnette nomination next week it would present a lose-lose for the Republican leadership.
- Worst case scenario: He proves as big a risk as many fear and hands a competitive seat to Democrats.
- Best case scenario: She gets elected and ends up being a thorn in the side of the Senate leadership. She has already signaled her hesitation about endorsing McConnell as the Republican leader.
- That potentially aligns her with candidates like Greitens, who has said she will not endorse McConnell. Greitens’ campaign says internal polling of him has him leading his primary race, despite potentially catastrophic general election baggage.
Whats Next: Prominent Republicans are belatedly trying to kill Barnette’s momentum.
Ric Grenell, a Trump ally who also backed Oz, has been spreading around a video of Barnette’s earlier comments on “white racism.”
- Republican operatives have been running negative articles about her from Breitbart and the Washington Examiner.
- Pat Toomey, the Republican senator vacating the Pennsylvania seat, told Axios: “There’s a lot… voters don’t know about her. A lot.”
On Wednesday, a Republican agent aligned with a rival campaign contacted Axios to point out Barnette’s comments about systemic racism in the US and the country’s complicated history of racial discrimination and slavery.
- The calculation, the operative admitted, is to hurt Barnette among Republican base voters who are presumed to be hostile to seemingly progressive views on issues of racial justice.
- The person also flagged an online petition Barnette created to build a statue in Washington, DC, honoring Barack Obama and his family.
However, it is terribly late in the game. for the Republicans to destroy Barnette.
- Some heavyweights also appear to be on the sidelines.
- A group with a massive bank account and the potential to affect Republican races, the McConnell ally Senate Leadership Fund has no plans to participate in the Pennsylvania primary, a source with direct knowledge of the Senate’s plans told Axios. group on Wednesday.
- When Senate Minority Leader John Thune was asked if the establishment is putting its thumb in the balance in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, he told Axios: “In this case, no, we’re not. … We’re going to let the voters vote their will,” though he added that he hasn’t been paying much attention to the race.
Barnette has built up impressive momentum in recent weeks.
She has risen in the polls from the mid-singles in April to around 20% now.
Multiple attendees at a Trump-Oz rally last weekend said they back Barnette.
- At the same time, some kind of cavalry finally comes to Barnette’s aid.
- The well-funded conservative group Club for Growth shocked Barnette’s competitors when it booked $2 million worth of TV ads on Tuesday in support of her.
- The New York Times reported that Club for Growth’s spending is more than 10 times the total Barnette’s own campaign had spent on television to date.
- The powerful anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, the Republicans’ answer to the pro-choice group Emily’s List and a powerful player in the Republican primary, barnette backedas well as.