SCRANTON — Voters in Pennsylvania head to the polls on Tuesday after a dramatic and unpredictable primary that delivered a day of more twists and questions, with a frontrunner hospitalized, a surging candidate facing new questions and a hanging ending looming in the Republican Senate race.
Much of Monday — like the rest of the campaign’s final week — centered on the surprising rise of GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, who faced new questions about take part in the walk that preceded the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol, her Islamophobic tweets and a suggestion that if she loses she won’t support any of her main Republican rivals, Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.
Most polls showed Oz, the famed surgeon known as “Dr. Oz,” clinging to a relatively narrow lead in the GOP Senate primary, with all three in a tight group at the top. of a race that will decide the party’s nominee in one of the nation’s most critical contests.Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands trailed the top three by far.Former President Donald Trump weighed in on his support for Oz on Monday , recording a robocall for him and calling in to Oz’s closing campaign event.
In the Democratic Senate primary, front-runner Lt. Gov. John Fetterman remained hospitalized after a stroke on Friday and planned to skip election night on Tuesday while recovering. An email to supporters on Monday said he was “on the way to a full recovery”. His wife, Gisele Baretto Feterman, was instead set to headline the Tuesday night event.
His main rivals are US Representative Conor Lamb and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta. Lamb, who will have to defy public polls to rally and defeat Fetterman, kept a relatively low public profile on Monday.
READ MORE: Get to know the 2022 nominees for Pa. Senate and Governor
In the Republican primary for governor, public polls have consistently shown State Sen. Doug Mastriano with a significant lead over former U.S. Representative Lou Barletta, who in the final days of the race cemented much support from the GOP establishment, including a major political party. group that has spent millions supporting another candidate, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. But with Mastriano seemingly leading by a significant margin, Trump endorsed him on Saturday.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for governor.
The Senate and gubernatorial primaries have drawn national attention to their importance to control of the Senate, the potential for significant changes in state laws if the GOP wins the governor’s mansion, and signals about the forces and orientations of both parties in a state critical momentum.
The Republican Senate race, in particular, is seen as a test of Trump’s strength with GOP voters even after he left office, as he put his muscles behind Oz.
Voters’ decisions on Tuesday will frame critical races this fall.
Much of the attention in the final days of the campaign has focused on Barnette, a conservative commentator who has surged to the forefront, despite huge spending by wealthy Oz and McCormick.
Even Trump focused some of his remarks on Barnette during his call to Oz’s Montgomery County rally, during which Oz raised a microphone on his phone to amplify the former president’s remarks.
“Nobody knew anything about her until literally a few days ago, and she has some explaining to do,” Trump said. “I think what’s going to happen is that when it’s controlled, it’s going to be a disaster for the party.”
Around the same time in Scranton, Barnette remarked on her own rise and the opposition she now faces.
“Everyone is stacking up, left, right,” she said, later adding, “the long knives are out because we’re winning.”
Earlier on Monday, she gave a series of interviews to conservative radio stations, trying to answer last-minute questions her rivals raised as they tried to halt her sudden momentum.
READ MORE: ‘Knives out’ for Kathy Barnette as Republicans, and Trump, scramble to stop her
The wide variety of requests reflected the random selection of a candidate who has long been eclipsed by her spendthrift rivals and who, in recent days alone, looked set to win.
Asked by radio host Dom Giordano about the Islamophobic social media posts Barnette made between 2014 and 2015, she doubled down on her explanation that she wasn’t speaking in “mindfulness” when she tweeted that “the ‘Islam must not be allowed to prosper’ in the United States and share a link to an article entitled “Pedophilia is the cornerstone of Islam”.
“It’s not a complete sentence, it’s not a complete thought,” Barnette told Giordano. “That’s the number of characters Twitter would let you copy or paste, right? That was seven or eight years ago, and now everyone is shoving that in my face…and I can’t explain the context of the tweet from seven or eight years ago.
Barnette then provided background, saying the tweets were posted during a national debate over whether Syrian refugees were properly vetted under the Obama administration, then alluded to a few US terror attacks linked to Islamic terrorist groups.
Pressed by Giordano on the pedophilia allegation, Barnette said: “I don’t think it’s a cornerstone of Islam, no, but again…I don’t know if at the end of this text I say something different.” His entire tweet on the subject was the title and a link to the article.
In another interview, Barnette suggested that if she lost, she wouldn’t support any of her main GOP rivals in the general election.
She described Oz and McCormick as “globalists” and later, when asked to support her party’s candidate, she replied, “I have no intention of supporting the globalists.”
“I believe our country is in trouble, and I don’t think we have much more time,” she told conservative media outlet Breitbart. “What I did was I made it possible that Pennsylvanians didn’t have to hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils this time around.”
But later in Scranton, Barnette seemed to tone down that comment.
“I will do everything I can for the GOP,” she told reporters.
And while Barnette has long openly questioned the legal results of the 2020 election and was already known to have traveled to Washington for the Trump rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill, this n it was only Monday that he images emerge showing her joining the walk to the building.
There was no evidence that she entered the Capitol or participated in the riot. Asked by Breitbart about her attendance that day, she pointed out her First Amendment rights but did not directly answer whether she had entered the building.
“As a law-abiding American, I wanted to go out and support my president at the time, President Trump,” she said. “I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to know if there was a plan. I went there, prayed with lots of people, had a great time, got on a bus and went home.
Later in Scranton, she did not say whether she considered herself a far-right candidate. Instead, she said she was a Republican who believes the United States is the greatest country in the world.
“I’m the kind of Republican who believes we’re a land of law and order,” she said, “and I will maintain that.”
Barnette’s rivals said the many questions should give GOP voters pause.
“She’s still a mystery to a lot of voters,” Oz said in his own interview with Giordano. “And we have to monitor her to make sure she’s a person who doesn’t have other issues that could harm or kill her ability to win the general election.”
Similarly, McCormick told the host in a separate interview, “There are some very basic questions…and I don’t think Kathy adequately answered those questions.”
Campaigning later Monday in Washington County, McCormick told about 200 supporters that “we have victory in sight.” He compared the primary campaign to an epic battle like those portrayed in the movies, saying, “I’m going to be your gladiator.”
“I think the country is in trouble,” he said, “and if people don’t dig in, don’t jump in the arena, we’re going to be lost.”
Trump recorded a robocall that was broadcast statewide disparaging both Barnette and McCormick.
“These are not candidates who put America first, and that’s what we need,” the former president said on the call, adding of Oz, “he’s tough , he’s smart and he really loves our country.”
A former Trump ally whom the president rejected in the gubernatorial race meanwhile expressed disappointment on Monday during his own campaign stop at the Penrose Diner in South Philadelphia.
“I think he made a mistake,” Barletta said of Trump’s decision to back Mastriano.
Mastriano said a last-minute effort by some Pennsylvania GOP leaders to halt his rise shows the establishment is “terrified to have a candidate who truly works for the people.”
“They are afraid of losing power and influence, because I report to the people,” Mastriano, a retired army colonel, told Wendy Bell Radio on Monday. “It’s about power and control.”
-Writers Chris Brennan, Max Marin, Andrew Seidman, Julia Terruso, and Anna Orso contributed to this article.