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A new poll out Sunday found a potential new frontrunner in the crowded GOP Pennsylvania Senate primary, and it’s not the daytime television star or a former Trump official who have been neck and neck throughout the contest. It’s a political commentator running on a MAGA platform without the MAGA president’s endorsement: Kathy Barnette.
According to the survey from the Trafalgar Group, one of the most reliable pollsters of the prior two presidential elections, Barnette is tied with medical TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz, with more than 23 percent to the doctor’s less than 25 percent, within the nearly 3 percent margin of error. The Trafalgar Group surveyed 1,080 likely GOP primary voters between May 6-8, just after Barnette became a breakout candidate in the Republican Senate debate fueling a late-race surge.
“Yes, it is true. I’m black. And I’ve been black all my life, fact check it,” Barnette said on stage in one of at least two soundbites from the Newsmax-sponsored event to go viral, racking up tens of thousands of views on Twitter alone. “Black people are not special little unicorns. We want what everyone else wants. We want good schools, we want safe streets, we want good jobs. We don’t want liquor stores on every street corner… We [Republicans] have the best story to tell. The problem is we keep picking people who suck at telling it.”
In another clip, Barnette touted her pro-life credentials, highlighting herself as a product of rape, conceived when her mother was only 11 years old.
“I am the byproduct of a rape,” she said. “My mother was 11-years-old when I was conceived, my father was 21. I was not just a ‘lump of cells.’ As you can see, I’m still not just a ‘lump of cells.’ My life has value.” She documented her birth story in a more than four-minute campaign ad released in September.
The debate moment came two days after abortion entered the electoral spotlight with a leaked draft opinion previewing the Supreme Court’s potential reversal of Roe v. Wade this summer.
Barnette’s surge in the polls illustrated by RealClearPolitics below, just days before the Pennsylvania Senate primary, showcases a candidacy built on grassroots campaigning with a compelling message without the advantages of a well-funded war chest deployed by her competitors.
According to Politico on Monday with data from the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, rival candidates Oz and former senior Trump Treasury official David McCormick have spent $12.4 million and $11.4 million on television commercials, respectively. Barnette has only spent about $137,000, a spending ratio of 358-1 against her competitors. Yet Barnette, running without former President Donald Trump’s support while coopting his movement, is in a prime position to clinch the contest.
So who is Barnette? The political newcomer has only sought public office once before in a failed House bid for the Philadelphia-area fourth congressional district two years ago. Her star-studded rivals include two former high-level officials in the Trump administration, McCormick and Carla Sands, who was ambassador to Denmark, and the television celebrity who captured their former employer’s endorsement, Oz.
Barnette is a retired Army reservist who spent a decade in the military, enlisting when she was 18. The Senate hopeful told The Federalist her experience serving in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) unit fundamentally shaped her perspective of law enforcement as far different from the one she’s expected to hold as a black woman. Barnette said she was the youngest in her unit by at least 20 years, and was the only black person, let alone woman, in her group.
“Police are considered bad across the board, but today as I stand my best friends are in the industry,” she said. “When I’m running out of a bad situation, they’re running into a situation.”
Barnette said she spent time in South Korea “as well as other places” over her decade of service as a reservist. She later added “author” to her resume after four years of frequent national television and radio commentary since 2016, publishing “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America.” The book published in 2020, the same year she lost her congressional race by nearly 20 points.
Despite the loss, she jumped with both feet into the crowded 2022 Pennsylvania Senate primary shortly after, undeterred and relentlessly campaigning with sometimes 1,300 miles traveled in a single week.
“I’ve had to go person to person to make my case,” Barnette told the Federalist, adding despite low early poll numbers for much of the race, she kept going with the refusal to believe there was “no snowball’s chance in Hades of making an impact.”
Barnette’s platform is firmly conservative, with no issue standing out as more important than the other, she told The Federalist. On her website, Barnette condemns censorship, celebrates the 2nd Amendment, cherishes the right to life, deplores vaccine mandates, demands energy independence, and insists on parental input over school curriculums.
“Everything’s on fire and everything’s equally important,” she said, when asked about any wedge issues she’d carve out as a hallmark of her time in the upper chamber.
While declining to single out a particular problem to make her stand, she spoke about the need to address four-decade high inflation, Democrats’ rapid forfeiture of energy independence, and emphasized the crisis on the southern border helped inspire her entrance into electoral politics. On whether she would support the Republican nominee no matter who captured the race next week, she declined to make a blanket pledge.
“It depends on who it is,” Barnette told The Federalist, without offering a name. “I’m not interested in supporting globalists.”
While running on a similar platform with Trump’s blessing, past comments have surfaced to haunt Oz, the lead contender in the race for much of the last month. The television host’s prior endorsement of abortion and showcasing of transgender activism on his daytime program have raised skepticism about his conservative credentials in a race, despite his claims today to be pro-life.
Oz said on a 2019 episode of The Breakfast Club Podcast he didn’t want to “interfere” in women’s ability to get an abortion.
“We need to be very sober about the decision we’re about to make,” Barnette said. “Fortunately, Pennsylvanians have an option and don’t have to hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal. His work has also been featured in Real Clear Politics and Fox News. Tristan graduated from George Washington University where he majored in political science and minored in journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at Tristan@thefederalist.com.