Following the release of a Fox News poll that showed Barnette within striking distance of Oz, Trump released a statement slamming Barnette as too weak to face the Democrat in the general election.
“Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats,” Trump said Thursday in a news release from his political action committee.
In the same statement, Trump left the door open to supporting her if she wins, an effort to cover his bases in light of increasing scrutiny about the waning power of his political endorsements.
“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,” he said.
Barnette, who wrote a book about being Black and conservative and who has never held public office, has a lengthy history of anti-Muslim and anti-gay statements, according to CNN. She falsely accused former President Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim and has suggested banning Islam. She’s also dabbled in fraud conspiracies concerning the 2020 election.
The Fox poll from Tuesday showed Barnette with 19% of the vote, just behind Oz at 22% and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick at 20%. It also had 18% of voters still undecided.
National Republicans are choosing to stay out of the fray for now. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is neutral when it comes to the primary. On Thursday, he downplayed concerns about Barnette’s viability as a general election candidate and projected confidence about winning the open seat no matter who comes out on top.
“We’ll win Pennsylvania,” Scott told HuffPost.
But Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the vice chair of the Senate GOP conference, defended Barnette by calling her “extraordinary.”
“Just because you’re a political newcomer doesn’t mean we write you off,” Ernst said in an interview with CNN.
Trump on Thursday also announced a tele-rally for Oz just days after he traveled to the state to hold a MAGA rally for the former “Dr. Oz Show” host — another sign that the former president believes Oz might need his last-minute help before Tuesday’s primary. At the live rally last Friday, Trump had trouble selling the crowd on Oz, who got booed on stage.
Barnette’s rise in the race’s home stretch is stunning considering the millions Oz and McCormick have spent introducing themselves to voters and trashing each other in TV ads. They’ve each questioned the other’s conservative credentials, ties to China and spotty residency links to the state they want to represent in Congress.
Democrats have their own primary headaches to contend with ahead of what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races of the cycle. But they couldn’t help gloating a little on Thursday about the situation that Republicans find themselves in.
“We have a challenge this year for sure, but this primary they’re having ― it’s so negative, so rancorous, so divisive that I think it’s going to hurt their nominee,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said.