LANCASTER, Pa. — They danced the Macarena at an election night party, but Kathy Barnette and her supporters ultimately didn’t have much to celebrate.
The hard-right media commentator enjoyed a surge in the polls and a flurry of media attention toward the end of her campaign that didn’t translate to more than a projected third-place finish and a fun party at a fancy barn.
Still, Barnette seemed to have a blast. She danced the night away at an upscale event space, the Star Barn at Stone Gables Estate in Elizabethtown, thanked her supporters, didn’t exactly concede, then packed it up and went home.
“Ya’ll saw the long knives come out at me, and you saw me leaning into it,” Barnette said at the event.
The race for first place is still too close to call, but Barnette seemed to finish with 25% of the vote, a respectable outcome for a newcomer who had never previously run statewide. Had Barnette won, she would have been well-positioned to become the Senate’s first Black female Republican.
For a moment in the run-up to Election Day, Barnette appeared to have an opening against TV doctor Mehmet Oz and hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, who relentlessly attacked each other in TV ads. Barnette benefited from being endorsed by and running alongside Doug Mastriano, the far-right 2020 election denier who won the GOP nomination Tuesday, as well as from her unbelievable life story she shared — growing up on a pig farm in southern Alabama without running water, born when her mother was 12.
And considering that Barnette was crushed in paid media — Oz, McCormick and their allies spent roughly 25 times what she and the conservative Club for Growth did — the outcome wasn’t all that bad. Barnette’s only earlier political experience was a failed 2020 U.S. House race, which she also didn’t concede.
Barnette managed her rise with just three campaign staffers, including a campaign manager who had another full-time job.
“We went from not one phone call the entire campaign to 100 phone calls in an hour,” Bob Gillies, the campaign manager and a GOP state House candidate in 2014, told HuffPost.
Barnette would have fit like a glove on the GOP ticket with Mastriano, a Christian nationalist who was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, and led the charge in Pennsylvania to overturn the 2020 election. NBC News reported Monday that Barnette marched in Washington that day alongside members of the Proud Boys who were later charged with breaching the U.S. Capitol and attacking officers.
Interviews with Barnette supporters on the campaign trail revealed why her candidacy was so attractive to some primary voters. People found her to be authentic, her life story resonated with them and, maybe most importantly, they wanted an alternative to McCormick and Oz. (Tellingly, Barnette beat Oz in Montgomery County, where they both reside.)
“She has the convictions, and she hasn’t changed,” Daniel Fahrin, a 23-year-old who showed up to a small Barnette event in Scranton on Monday, told HuffPost. “We’re having issues where obviously some people flipped and they’re not from Pennsylvania.”
“I don’t think Dr. Oz is a serious person or a serious candidate,” Andy Roke, a 34-year-old corporate business manager, told HuffPost. “I’m very anti-establishment. Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, I don’t think they have our best interests at heart. She’s just an outsider.”
Cheryl Kundla, 61, was undecided at the start of Barnette’s event Monday, not sure what to make of the last-minute opposition research against her, including that she was calling former President Barack Obama a Muslim as recently as 2016. Barnette still won her over.
“If she wins by one vote tomorrow, it’ll be me,” she told HuffPost.
Barnette seemed to leave the door open to another night of line dancing in her political future.
“Our county is wounded. Our country is divided, and I believe our country is divided intentionally. So we’ve got to do our part,” she said. “We have the best story to tell. What the left is telling you, that’s not our story. We’ve got to be bold.”