If Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary loses, it will likely be at the hands of Kathy Barnette, a Black Republican woman who went from previously little-known failed congressional candidate to someone who captured the energy of the GOP base.
But just who is Ms Barnette and how did she wind up becoming the main challenger to Dr Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Senate race? And furthermore, what does it say about the future of the GOP?
Ms Barnette has leaned heavily on her personal story about growing up on a pig farm in southern Alabama. Similarly, Axiosreported how Ms Barnette discussing the fact that her mother decided not to have an abortion after she was raped, has given Republicans a salve as they worry about being asked about abortion exceptions for rape and incest as the Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v Wade.
A video from her campaign opens by saying: “It wasn’t a choice. It was a life.” Her bio also says that she served on the board of a crisis pregnancy centre, which many conservatives try to use as an alternative to abortion clinics to dissuade women from seeking a pregnancy termination.
As a Black woman who grew up in Alabama and a Republican, she has made a career of being a Black conservative commentator and wrote a book called Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America. In 2020, she ran against Democratic Representative Madeleine Dean but lost by a wide margin. When GOP primary opponent Carla Sands criticised her for her loss, she deferred to discussing how the 2020 election was stolen.
“Are you saying that there was absolutely – that the 2020 was above par?” she said. “That there was no fraud, that there was no issues with that?”
This came despite the fact she lost by double digits against Ms Dean.
Similarly, Ms Barnette has talked about her military service. Ms Barnette refused to answer questions from the conservative Washington Examiner about the name of her hometown; where she worked as an adjunct professor; what financial institutions she worked for; where she was an officer candidate; when she moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania; and whether she graduated from Troy State University. This came despite the fact that her bio says she is a “veteran, a former adjunct professor of corporate finance, a conference speaker, and a conservative political commentator.”
Since then, she’s also come under scrutiny for a series of Islamophobic social media posts, such as when she tweeted that “Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam.” Similarly, Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin found video footage of her making Islamophobic remarks.
“The mindset of a Muslim is very different from the mindset of Americans and that’s the reason why we cannot fully understand the level, the depth of the depravity, the depth of the evil,” she said in 2016.
Despite the baggage, she has emerged as a frontrunner against former television host Dr Mehmet Oz, whom Mr Trump endorsed. Mr Trump has defended his preferred candidate and said that Ms Barnette is not electable.
“Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats,” he said last week. “She has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted, but if she is able to do so, she will have a wonderful future in the Republican Party—and I will be behind her all the way.”
Mr Trump made the remarks because she has recently surged in polls. A Fox News poll from last week showed her behind Dr Oz, who was at 22 per cent while she was polling at 19 per cent and that her numbers shot up by 10 points since March.
But even though Mr Trump has rebuffed her, Ms Barnette was also one of the most fanatical supporters of the Big Lie that the election was stolen. CNN reported that she brought three buses of “pissed off patriots” to Washington DC on 6 January 2021 for what she called “our 1776 moment”. On Monday, NBC News confirmed that she had marched to the Capitol that day alongside members of the Proud Boys.
Ms Barnette’s campaign defended her actions to NBC.
“Kathy was in DC to support President Trump and demand election accountability,” her campaign said. “Any assertion that she participated in or supported the destruction of property is intentionally false. She has no connection whatsoever to the Proud Boys.”