There’s drama on top of drama on top of drama here. I doubt we’ll see a more suspenseful election all year, particularly since this was supposed to be a two-man race. It isn’t.
The first layer of drama is the new polling from Fox. It’s anyone’s ballgame in Pennsylvania, with three candidates bunched up and nearly 20 percent still undecided with six days to go before the big vote.
In March, businessman McCormick led television celebrity Dr. Oz by 9 points (24%-15%). A new Fox News survey of Pennsylvania GOP primary voters shows the candidates trading places, with Oz receiving 22% to McCormick’s 20% and political commentator Barnette right with them at 19%. Next, is businesswoman Carla Sands at 8% and real estate investor Jeff Bartos at 7%…
Oz (56%) and Barnette (51%) have a larger share of supporters who feel certain they will back them than McCormick has committed to him (39%).
Overall, half, 51%, say they could change their mind about their Senate primary vote and nearly half, 45%, say the same about their candidate preference in the gubernatorial primary.
Oz picked up seven points since Fox’s last poll thanks to Trump’s endorsement — but Kathy Barnette picked up 10 over the same period. How the hell did she manage that when she’s being outspent — no typo — 358 to one by Mehmet Oz and David McCormick?
It starts with the fact that Oz and McCormick have spent the entire campaign attacking each other in the belief that they were the only two candidates who stood a chance at winning. Those attacks have given Republican voters plenty of reason to dislike both while leaving Barnette unscathed. Barnette’s also benefiting from the fact that Oz and McCormick are filthy rich and badly out of touch with populist sensibilities. No one believes that either of them is a MAGA tribune of the common man. Barnette is the real deal by comparison, a woman who says she was conceived in an act of rape, grew up dirt poor, and made something of herself. A clear-cut advantage on working-class authenticity shouldn’t be underestimated. Finally, Barnette may have solved her problem of being perceived by many voters as too much of a longshot to stand a real chance. One GOP consultant in Pennsylvania told Politico that he’s heard repeatedly from Republicans during the campaign, “Boy, I really like her, but she can’t win.”
Well, according to the last few polls, she can win. How many undecideds who prefer Barnette but had been holding back in the belief that she had no chance are now switching to supporting her in light of the polling?
There’s one more factor, per Politico. Nothing signals MAGA purity in a GOP primary like “stop the steal” crankery. Barnette has a leg up on Oz and McCormick in that area as well:
GOP consultants said another factor that helps explain her bump in the polls is her link to state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the frontrunner in the state’s GOP primary for governor. Mastriano and Barnette have endorsed each other and campaigned alongside each other.
Mastriano worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election and recently appeared at an event that promoted Q-Anon propaganda. He also went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the insurrection. He has said he left before the riot.
Like Mastriano, Barnette has made false statements about voter fraud in 2020. She said at a debate that it is “absolutely not” time for the GOP to move past the presidential election.
Mastriano was so hardcore about overturning the last election that he was present at the Capitol during the insurrection and was later subpoenaed by the January 6 committee. He’s leading the pack in the GOP gubernatorial primary, naturally, to the dismay of Republicans and delight of Democrats. You can’t get much more “authentic” in a modern Republican contest than election trutherism, a reality that’s giving him and Barnette a real shot at becoming their party’s nominees.
Relatedly, the photo Barnette uses on her Facebook campaign page has her standing behind a banner that reads “Hiring the Unvaccinated.” So, yeah.
So much for the first layer of drama. The second layer is happening behind the scenes, in the endorsement battle among the candidates. “[W]hen the former President endorsed celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Republican Senate primary, it opened a pathway for Barnette to run further to the right, and more in line with the ‘MAGA movement’ than any of her primary opponents,” CNN notes today about Barnette’s polling surge. I made a similar point a few days ago. Had Trump endorsed McCormick, a more or less acceptable-ish pretend-MAGA rich guy, I think McCormick would have shot up in the polls a la J.D. Vance, leaving Oz an also-ran and Barnette in the dust. But because Trump endorsed Oz, a figure whom Pennsylvania distrust and dislike…
…he made Barnette the only remaining viable option for some voters. Oz is too squishy, whatever Trump might say about it, but McCormick is also unacceptable now because Trump openly disdains him. The solution: Barnette. But is anyone willing to endorse her and bet on the longshot in the race?
Why, yes, it turns out. The Club for Growth is making a revenge play against Trump in Pennsylvania:
NEW: The Club for Growth’s new ad is a pure pro-Barnette biographical spot.
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) May 11, 2022
Until recently, Barnette had spent a grand total of less than $150,000 on ads. The Club is going in on a $2 million ad buy on her behalf in the final week of the race in hopes of helping her over the finish line. Is Barnette that much more enthusiastic about free markets than McCormick or Oz are? Not to my knowledge. But the Club went all-in on Josh Mandel in Ohio’s Senate primary and ended up pissing off Donald Trump Sr. and Jr. in the process, as the Trumps feared the Club’s money might spoil J.D. Vance’s chances.
It didn’t. The Trumps won that wrestling match. But Pennsylvania’s primary now presents an opportunity for payback, with Barnette poised to upset Trump’s underwhelming candidate, Dr.Oz. And this time it’s the Club rather than Trump that’s more in line with grassroots sentiment. So they’re going to spend a little money in PA to show Trump that they’re willing to take him on and capable of winning.
The final layer of drama is a religious subplot in the primary. Last week Mike Pompeo, who’s backing McCormick, attacked Oz for maintaining dual citizenship in Turkey. Some interpreted that as McCormick questioning the loyalty of the only Muslim candidate in the race. “That whole line of attack is unsavory to me,” said Lindsey Graham about Pompeo’s accusations. “I have no doubt that [Oz is] loyal to the United States.” Kevin Cramer agreed, saying, “For a guy who has dual citizenship, he’s been critical of [Tayyip] Erdoğan, which I think probably inoculates him further.”
As it turns out, though, Barnette has gone much further than Pompeo in the past in questioning the loyalty of Muslims:
Barnette wrote that there was “nothing rational about Islam,” implied that religious freedom did not extend to Islam, and shared a post stating that “Islam should be banned in the USA.”
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) May 10, 2022
In 2015 she shared an article stating that “pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam.”
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) May 10, 2022
Is that going to come up this week as Oz and Barnette jockey to gain advantage over each other? Oz may not want to touch it: In a Republican primary, accusing his opponent of prejudice against Muslims isn’t necessarily a vote-getter, especially if it ends up reminding voters that Oz is Muslim himself. Barnette probably won’t want to touch it either, though, since she may have a general election campaign to run starting next Wednesday. And if they do clash over her old tweets, voters may throw up their hands over the dispute and swing to McCormick instead. Anything can happen.
In lieu of an exit question, read this Salena Zito piece in which Zito tries to get answers from Team Barnette to basic biographical questions (“Where was she an adjunct professor and when?”) and fails. Pennsylvania Republicans will be placing a high-stakes bet on a little-known figure in a race that could determine the Senate majority if they nominate Barnette.