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Republican ‘chaos’ in Pennsylvania threatens to upend midterm elections


To a degree surpassing any other 2022 midterm contest so far, Donald Trump has poured his personal prestige into the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary race, which is going through a final spasm of uncertainty as Kathy Barnette, a candidate insurgent with a sparse resume, gives Trump’s pick Dr. Mehmet Oz a last-minute scare.

The outcome of this election, along with the GOP contest for governor, threatens to implode the state’s Republican Party – with an explosion radius that could be felt in states as far apart as Arizona. , Georgia and North Carolina over the coming weeks and months. .

The turmoil also has major implications for Trump’s grip on the party, which is increasingly alarmed that the former president’s involvement in the primaries could sabotage Republicans’ chances of reclaiming the Senate despite the unpopularity of President Biden.

Trump endorsed Oz, a famous doctor, on the advice of many Republicans inside and outside Pennsylvania. The bill is coming due, these Republicans now say.

Many Trump voters have expressed skepticism of Oz, which has rebuffed millions of dollars in negative publicity highlighting its past Republican heterodoxies on issues as varied as abortion and gun rights. . As of Monday, Oz leads by nearly three percentage points in RealClearPolitics’ polling average in the primary, roughly matching the latest Oz campaign daily tracking poll, I’m told. .

It’s unclear how late Republicans will ultimately vote, though a new poll from Susquehanna University found that 45% of respondents who made up their minds “in the last few days” supported Barnette.

On Saturday, Trump finally endorsed Doug Mastriano, a conspiracy theory-minded retired military officer who is leading the polls in the race for governor, in an apparent attempt to hedge his bets.

“He’s clearly upset that it’s not going his way,” said David Urban, a political operative and top Trump backer who led the former president’s efforts to win Pennsylvania in the 2016 election.

Urban is backing Dave McCormick, another West Point graduate, in the Senate race, and said he hasn’t recently spoken to Trump about the primary.

The McCormick camp is hoping the fireworks between Barnette and Oz will earn them a second look from voters, who seem to be hesitating between the three main contenders.

Not everyone buys it.

A veteran Republican operative in Pennsylvania who isn’t aligned with any Senate campaign has compared McCormick to ‘Die Hard’ movie villain Hans Gruber, who tries to fire up Bruce Willis’ character even as he falls from the top of Nakatomi Plaza.

Barnette endorsed Mastriano and vice versa, and the two held events together – almost as if they were racing together as some sort of super-MAGA ticket. She has avoided questions about her background in recent days, including her military service and past Islamophobic comments.

Oz, who if elected would become the first Muslim U.S. senator, called the comments “disqualifying” and “reprehensible” in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press.

In the race for governor, Republicans aligned with the party establishment are desperate to prevent Mastriano from winning the nomination and have urged other candidates to unite around former Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running for governor with the help of several former Trump campaign aides.

One of the first members of Congress to embrace Trump, former Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, lambasted the former president at a press conference over the weekend for what he called a lack of “loyalty ” to Barletta.

In a follow-up interview, Marino said he hadn’t planned to back anyone in the race, but decided to back Barletta because he felt Barletta won Trump’s support by risking his career. to launch with Trump at the start of Campaign 2016.

“I did what I did because I was so outraged” by Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano, Marino said. “Loyalty is important to me.”

Watching the events in Pennsylvania, which included the Democratic Senate’s leading contender, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who suffered a stroke on Friday, hip observers from both parties used words like “flabbergasted” and “dumbfounded”.

“It’s just crazy bang-bang here,” said Harrisburg-based Republican consultant Christopher Nicholas.

Recriminations fly over why the Pennsylvania Republican Party didn’t appreciate Barnette and Mastriano’s rise to power until it was too late to stop their momentum. Ballots have already been printed, fueling desperation among party insiders that efforts to unify the party against one or both foreign candidates may ultimately prove futile.

“The press paid very little attention to Barnette until the last two weeks,” said G. Terry Madonna, a Pennsylvania political pundit who ran polls at Franklin and Marshall College for many years.

National Democrats are watching developments in Pennsylvania closely, and many predicted Tuesday’s contest results would affect other Republican Senate primaries in the coming weeks.

And while public anger over inflation and supply chain disruption weighs in favor of the GOP, Democrats hope to compete in the fall against candidates they perceive as easier to defeat, like Barnette. .

The biggest impact of Trump’s interference could be felt in Arizona, where he has yet to issue an endorsement. Trump has criticized establishment nominee Attorney General Mark Brnovich for not overturning Biden’s victory there in 2020, but has yet to choose an alternative.

David Bergstein, communications director for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said Trump’s interference in the GOP primaries was having an even greater effect on the Republican Party than many Democrats had anticipated. “Chaos begets chaos,” he said.

how they run

When Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed legislation that critics dubbed the “toilet bill” in 2016, it sparked a firestorm.

The law, which required transgender people to use public restrooms that matched their birth gender, sparked protests from big business and sports powerhouses, including the NBA and NCAA, which pulled their games from the tournament. state basketball All-Star Game and March Madness.

A few months later, McCrory lost re-election.

Fast forward six years, and Republicans are imposing anti-transgender legislation across the country and punishing companies that dare to oppose it. But North Carolina Senate candidate McCrory is floundering in his bid to return to electoral politics, trailing heavily in the polls against a Donald Trump-backed rival.

Nor does McCrory speak on the campaign trail about the burning issue of LGBTQ rights that brought him to national prominence in 2016.

“It’s not an issue that drives me, it never has been,” McCrory said in a phone interview Monday. “But it’s a problem, if asked, I will say where I am.”

McCrory’s bid to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr has been complicated by the strength of Rep. Ted Budd, who has backing from Trump and the conservative Club for Growth and appears to be leading the race.

McCrory supports recently enacted law in Florida that restricts discussion of sexual orientation in schools. He said he had been told before that he was the Ron DeSantis before Ron DeSantis.

But as he seeks a Senate nomination in Tuesday’s primary, he is more interested in talking about inflation. He describes himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican who is interested in national defense, fighting crime, lowering taxes and balancing the budget.

He has also described himself as the Jason Bourne of the Republican Party. “I have these outside interest groups trying to give me a false identity,” he said, taking particular exception to attacks by the Club for Growth. “Who the hell are they to determine what kind of curator I am?”

Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican strategist in North Carolina, said Club for Growth spending could be the biggest factor in the Senate race, and he agreed with McCrory that the main issue for voters was inflation.

Wrenn said he didn’t think transgender rights were a major issue in the primary because the top contenders most likely agreed with McCrory’s actions in 2016.

“Obviously none of his opponents are attacking him for that in the primary,” Wrenn said, “because if you attack Pat for what he’s done in the past, that would probably help him.”

— Blake and Lea

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