GOP sounds alarm in Pennsylvania as hard-line candidates rise

GOP sounds alarm in Pennsylvania as hard-line candidates rise

Republicans are increasingly concerned they are losing their chances of winning Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial and state elections as uncompromising candidates emerge in the eleventh hour.

State officials are sounding the alarm that Senator Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial frontrunner whose bid focuses on baseless allegations of voter fraud in 2020, is making the top job in Harrisburg unattainable. And a late upswing in the Senate race for conservative commentator Kathy Barnette has raised concerns about vacating Senator Pat Toomey’s (R) vacant seat, crucial to Republicans’ path to control of the Senate.

Republicans are particularly concerned that the expected red wave in November may not carry such branding candidates to victory and may squander opportunities to win races that are vital at the state and federal levels if the GOP plans to go on the offensive to go.

“It would be like the voyage of Titanic, but with no survivors,” said a GOP strategist with years of experience in Pennsylvania.

Fears are peaking in the final days before Tuesday’s primary, largely over character concerns, not political positions.

Mastriano, who has been linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory and whose campaign did not respond to a request for comment, repeatedly points to unsubstantiated claims of electoral abuse without backing up his offering with concrete platforms. Barnette, meanwhile, has expressed similar concerns about the 2020 race, making Islamophobic and homophobic remarks and, as scrutiny mounts during her campaign, has been cautious about her bio.

Should they stumble, they’ll put the GOP on their backfoot in two crucial races. Republicans already control both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature, but have been handicapped by eight years of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. And Barnette is running for what many believe to be the seat that decides control of the Senate.

The fear became a reality in recent days as Republicans cobbled together final attempts to block their path to the nominations.

According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, several other Republican gubernatorial campaigns have discussed backing an alternative to Mastriano.

Former Rep. Lou Barletta (R) has won a late set of endorsements from State Senator Jake Corman and former State Senator Melissa Hart, two other low-poll candidates who dropped out, as well as Rep. Fred Keller and the former Senator. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

“Lou Barletta is the only candidate who can both unite the party and beat Josh Shapiro,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Barletta advisor.

Other big contenders, such as former US Attorney Bill McSwain and Ridley Township Commissioner Dave White, disagree.

“Bill McSwain has no intention of exiting,” McSwain spokeswoman Rachel Tripp said.

Former President Trump further muddled Governor’s Saturday with a confirmation for Mastriano, a final nudge that could be the nail in the coffin for Mastriano’s opponents and outside critics.

That didn’t end the talks, but even the participants concede that the kind of matching they need is almost impossible.

When asked if the candidates will drop out, Allegheny County GOP chairman Sam DeMarco, who is involved in the talks, laughed and replied, “No.”

“I’m doing this because I don’t want to see my group throw Thelma and Louise overboard and go over the cliff when we get a chance to really get this Commonwealth back on track,” he said.

Republicans’ fears are not just theoretical.

DeMarco tweeted an election memo via a poll showing Mastriano is uniquely weak against Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), who is running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary. A Fox News poll this month also showed Mastriano 11 points ahead of Barletta, compared to a 1-point deficit in March.

And Shapiro is also out with an ad highlighting Mastriano’s conservative track record and ties to Trump to support him in the GOP primary.

“They know who they want to run against, and they share it with the rest of us, spend money to make Doug a candidate,” said Jeff Piccola, York County GOP chairman, who supports McSwain. “Shapiro’s ads are the best ads [Mastriano] has.”

Similar concerns are brewing in the Senate race.

Barnette has enjoyed a late rise in the polls, with the latest Fox News poll showing her, famed surgeon Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick in first place.

Additionally, she won late endorsements from groups like the Club for Growth and Susan B. Anthony List, who plan to spend seven-figure and six-figure dollars, respectively, on pro-Barnette ads.

This rise outside left field has prompted a spate of attacks from Republicans seeking to bolster their own favored candidates down the primary stretch — including the GOP’s de facto leader.

“Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the radical left Democrats,” Trump, who has supported Oz, said in a statement. “A vote for anyone else in the primary is a vote against Victory in the Fall!”

Her rise also temporarily halted a brutal back-and-forth between Oz and McCormick.

McCormick’s advisers, who have spent weeks bashing Oz, have sent out a series of publications to reporters highlighting Barnette’s refusal to answer questions about her past military service, professional history and more, and Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yanick warned that “Kathy has a clear pattern of trying to cover up and beautify her background.”

Beyond her bio, Barnette has been forced to respond to a number of previous comments, including says that “Pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam” and the claim that the “gay AGENDA” strives for “domination”.

A Pro-Oz Super PAC has also appeared with a selectively edited ad calling Barnette “Pennsylvania’s craziest Senate candidate.” Oz also slammed Barnette during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show last week.

Barnette’s campaign hit back in a statement, calling the barbs misleading.

“The ads are distorted and very hateful,” said Barnette campaign manager Bob Gillies. “However, Kathy remains focused and the campaign will continue to progress positively.”

Still, the spate of attacks that has erupted over the past few days has prompted critics to sound the alarm about Barnette’s eligibility.

“My concern about whether it’s valid or not is that I want to make sure it’s been verified so we don’t nominate someone that the Democrats are going to dump a truckload of opposition research on right after the election,” DeMarco said. “We know how politics is today. You want to be sure that the person you nominate.”

However, Oz and McCormick have a tight window to turn voters against Barnette in time for Tuesday.

Given Barnette’s mediocre status in the field throughout most of elementary school, no candidate put a glove on her. And given that news coverage takes time to saturate voters’ minds, it’s unclear whether Barnette’s opponents will be able to disseminate their opposition research widely enough to halt their rise, especially given the low ones Cap required to win on the crowded field.

“The primary election winner will have two-thirds of Pennsylvania Republicans voting against him,” said Pennsylvania-born GOP strategist Chris Mottola. “She can absolutely win the nomination. The hardest thing to stop in politics is an aspiring candidate just before an election.”

Mastriano and Barnette allies argue that eligibility concerns are overdone, claiming they have a real connection to the base and that this year’s red tide will rise high enough to lift all boats.

“Even I could win the governor’s election this year with an R next to my name,” said Gary Smith, the leader of the Western Pennsylvania Constitutional Republican Party in Jefferson County. “It’s a tsunami. And the idea that you can’t win in the fall is a false distraction.”

But even if that’s true, Republicans are lamenting the headaches they’re struggling with in a wave year following a string of victories in Pennsylvania so close to the primary.

“It’s frustrating because you miss an opportunity. You’ve had all these successes, you won the legislature, you won the auditor general and the treasury with two candidates who totally outdid themselves that you never thought could win and they win and you think, you get tailwind,” said the GOP strategist with Pennsylvania experience. “And then you basically drop a grenade in your shorts.”

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