SOUTHAMPTON, Pa. — Kathy Barnette’s opposition to abortion couldn’t be more personal.
Her mother was raped and gave birth to her when she was 12 years old. “It was not a choice. It was a life. My life”, an emotional campaign video departures.
Ms Barnette – a far-right conservative locked in a seven-way Republican primary for an open seat in the Pennsylvania Senate – is suddenly surging in the polls, statistically tied for first place with two ultra-wealthy men. And one of them has the only thing more valuable than money or name recognition in a GOP primary: an endorsement from Trump.
As Tuesday’s election nears, Ms Barnette, 50, a black mother of two who has never held office and whose life story has moved many white anti-abortion conservatives, poses a threat late for the two presumed favorites, David McCormick, a retired hedge fund manager and Dr. Mehmet Oz, a TV celebrity endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump.
Ms. Barnette, who publicly espoused homophobes and anti-muslim views, was propelled primarily by its strong debate performances and rags-to-riches history. Even Thursday’s news that Mr. Trump had questioned elements of his past and said only Dr. Oz could defeat the Democrats in November didn’t seem to bother her.
Hours after Mr. Trump’s statement, Ms. Barnette spoke at a Republican Party dinner.
“They’re coming out with long knives at this point,” she told the audience in Southampton, about a half-hour drive north of Philadelphia. “Right? And I had the greatest day of my life today.
Later, speaking to reporters who were mostly shut out of the event, she said she interpreted Mr Trump’s comments as “supportive”. The former president said she “could never win” the November legislative elections, but had a “wonderful future” in the Republican Party.
“We know President Trump doesn’t mince his words,” she said. “I think that letter was supportive. And I look forward to working with the president.
In campaign videos and in front of voters, she explains that she spent at least part of her childhood living on a pig farm in southern Alabama, in the “one stop” town of Nichburg, in a house without insulation, without running water or indoor toilets.
“But this country has allowed me to be able to create a different narrative for myself,” she told Republicans on Wednesday at a campaign forum hosted by a group disgruntled with the traditional Pennsylvania GOP and hopes to elect a list of more conservative candidates for the state committee.
“But this country is about to disappear,” she warned in a singsong speech that blended the confidence of the pulpit with the intimacy of the confessional. “So we need good people now to stand up and start fighting for the greatest nation that has ever existed.”
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His vision of what that might look like is unambiguous.
She opposes gun control and abortion rights and proposes limiting federal government involvement in the health care industry. She ridiculed the Muslim faith by online posts and promotes Mr. Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. In a 2010 essay, published online by Canada Free Press, she argued that the gay rights movement – which she called “immoral and evil” – sought “dominion” and needed to be thwarted, citing the Bible as justification.
“Make no mistake, homosexuality is a targeted group in the Bible, just like cheats, drunkards, liars, rude people, extortionists, thieves and every other habitual sin,” she wrote. .
In an interview, she said she had no plans to move to the center if she won next week.
And for the line of people who hovered nearby at campaign events on Wednesday and Thursday hoping to snap a selfie with Ms Barnette, her outspokenness and life story were key selling points.
“She’s genuine,” said Dr. Anthony Mannarino, an eye surgeon who said his parents moved to the United States from Italy when he was 2 and neither of them had done any surgery. studies beyond the fifth year.
“It doesn’t look like she’s come from out of town to take up a Senate seat,” Dr. Mannarino added, hitting Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick, who both returned to Pennsylvania relatively recently. . State. Ms. Barnette calls them carpet baggers.
“I want an ordinary person,” Dr. Mannarino said. “I want someone who knows how much a burger costs and fills their own gas tank.”
Ms. Barnette, the author of “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America,” moved from Alabama after graduating from college and has lived in Pennsylvania for eight years, according to her campaign manager.
She and her husband, Carl, own a four-bedroom home in Huntingdon Valley, a suburb of Philadelphia, according to property records. For six years, she said, she homeschooled her son and daughter while appearing as a conservative commentator on “Fox & Friends.”
“She’s a new face in government,” said Conrad J. Kraus, a real estate broker and builder who lives around the corner from Ms. Barnette and handed out flyers announcing an open house for the candidate on Sunday. A Trump flag hangs from his tree. A doormat reading “Don’t Blame This Family. We voted for Trump,” greets visitors.
“A new face,” he said Thursday, predicting a win. “I like this.”
The Barnettes also owned property in Texas, according to property records, and her book biography on Amazon says she lived in Virginia.
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In the 1990s, she spent seven years in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, reaching the rank of specialist, said U.S. Army spokeswoman Madison Bonzo. She graduated with a finance degree from Troy State University in Alabama in 1997, according to the school, making her the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She then earned an MBA from Fontbonne University in Missouri.
She has been a Registered Republican since at least 2015, and in a new video she said she never voted for Barack Obama, refuting claims she once backed him, after a Change.org petition surfaced indicating that she hoped to erect a statue in Her Honour.
His first election candidacy, in 2020, was a flop. She lost a House race by 19 percentage points to incumbent Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean. She never conceded the race, said Timothy D. Mack, spokesman for Ms. Dean. Yet she began her Senate campaign almost immediately afterwards.
She has mastered Mr. Trump’s knack for sticking to a simple campaign message, distilling the financial effect of complex economic forces causing rising inflation into a one-syllable word: squeeze.
“People are feeling rushed right now,” she said this week. “How many of you have the feeling that something has gone wrong? »
She is competing in a primary for a seat held by a Republican senator, Pat Toomey, who announced he would retire after voting to impeach Mr Trump. (Senator Toomey told Axios that there are a lot of “voters who don’t know” about Ms Barnette.)
After a Washington Examiner article published Wednesday raised questions about her education, military experience and college credentials, she used it as fodder during a campaign stop later in the day.
“How long have I said I was running for the Senate? Thirteen months. And today the media just found out about my existence,” Ms Barnette said, prompting laughter.
But in halls filled almost entirely with white voters, it was Ms Barnette’s fierce opposition to abortion that seemed most important.
Christine Heitman, a 50-year-old software engineer, said she respects the difficult choice made by Ms Barnette’s mother to carry her pregnancy to term, noting that even opponents of abortion often make room for exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Ms. Barnette’s success, Ms. Heitman said, is proof of the sanctity of life.
“It looks like she had a life worth living, even though she was very poor,” Ms Heitman said.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.