Former President Donald Trump is urging Pennsylvania Republicans to reject surging Senate candidate Kathy Barnette in a Tuesday primary as controversial past remarks surface making her a tougher sell in the general election.
Trump backs TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz ahead of voting in what appears to be a three-way race against Barnette, a firebrand political commentator and failed 2020 House candidate, and businessman David McCormick.
“She lost her race as a congressional candidate by more than 20 points. She was really hit hard,” Trump said in Thursday night teleconference remarks circulated by Oz’s campaign.
“The problem is nobody knows what she is, what she stands for, who she is. It’s very risky because you’re going to win this with Oz,” Trump added.
“Kathy’s going to be a lot of trouble. I think she’s going to be a lot of trouble,” Trump said. “She may have a great future, but she’s totally an unknown. We can’t have that. So a vote for Oz is a vote for victory, and a vote for anyone else is a vote for giving away an election that really has to be had. We have to take a majority in the Senate.”
But Barnette, who has wooed conservatives with her blunt commentary, wrote Friday on Twitter, “Remember when they told you President Trump was unelectable and then he won? … The ‘experts’ have no idea.”
Barnette is essentially tied with Oz and McCormick in at least three recent polls. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls has her at 21 percent, with Oz at 23.3 percent and McCormick at 20.3 percent.
Barnette has built a following by latching on to salient social issues — such as the Supreme Court’s apparently looming rollback of federal abortion rights. She says that her mother was raped by her father, but chose not to abort the pregnancy.
But she also has written that she didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 primary, which her political foes are circulating ahead of Election Day.
Many top Republicans are worried that Barnette would allow Democrats to flip a seat held by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — potentially spoiling GOP plans to retake control of the Senate.
Nationally, Republicans are favored to win the midterms, due in part to public anger at four-decade high inflation, but Senate races often depend on candidate qualities.
Grassroots favorites have wrecked Republican fortunes in the past. In 2010, for example, Republicans in Delaware nominated outsider Christine O’Donnell, who lost in a landslide after famously denying she was a witch in a TV ad. Her upset primary win derailed an expected general election cruise by longtime GOP Rep. Mike Castle, an ex-governor.
Oz’s campaign on Friday called Barnette, “Chuck Schumer’s favorite candidate” in an email blast as news reports emerged of her frequent politically incorrect commentary on Islam and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
An Oz supporter told The Post that Barnette “is not ready for primetime and a vote for her would be Chuck Schumer’s dream come true.”
Barnette, 50, rocketed from relative obscurity in recent weeks and would be the state’s first black senator.
But her history of colorful commentary is surfacing — including past false claims that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and a claim that “Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam.”
She warned that allowing gays and lesbians to wed might be a step toward blessing relations between an “older man and a 12-year-old child.”
“Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal,” she said on her radio show in 2015, CNN reported this week.
Oz, who would be the first Muslim senator in US history, has campaigned heavily on Trump’s endorsement, but has faced attacks for his work for Turkish Airlines and participation in Turkish elections. McCormick, meanwhile, has faced scrutiny of his business dealings in China and India, but boasts support from many former Trump aides, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is favored to win the Democratic primary.