Trump and his allies want to avoid another defeat in Pennsylvania after the defeat in Nebraska



CNN

In the hours after Fox released a poll this week showing that Republican candidate for the US Senate from Pennsylvania, Kathy Barnette, had drawn a statistical link with the main opponents Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick, allies of the former President Donald Trump got to work trying to stifle his momentum.

To cast doubt on his conservative bona fide, they circulated one of Barnette’s tweets from July 2020 with the hashtags #BLM and #DefundThePolice — two rallying cries deployed by racial justice activists whose Republicans have stood up against. seized during the last electoral cycle.

But a video accompanying the tweet told a much different story. “Abolishing the police is stupid,” Barnette said tearfully on camera. “Don’t fall in love with these white liberals who come into our communities and tell us we need to cut law enforcement.”

The episode illustrates the problem Trump, who endorsed Oz in the Pennsylvania primary, faces as he and his allies try to prevent both a dark horse victory by Barnette in the final week of the race and a another blemish on his approval record, following the defeat of his chosen candidate in the Nebraska gubernatorial primary this week.

The situation has made Trump “nervous about the prospects of Oz,” according to a Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“For the past five months, he’s been told the only threat to Oz is David McCormick. It’s a twist that no one saw coming,” the adviser said.

Another person close to Trump who backed Oz described the situation as “a nightmare.” In interviews with CNN, this person and three other Trump allies described Barnette, who on Tuesday night won endorsements from socially conservative groups Susan B. Anthony List and CatholicVote and a seven-figure investment from the Club for Growth, as a threat. major for both. Oz and McCormick in the final stretch of the race.

On Tuesday, in an unexpected move, the Club for Growth announced it would spend $1.9 million to boost Barnette on the airwaves in Pennsylvania by the May 17 primary — a significant development for a candidate who has spent $160 000 dollars on television since the launch of his campaign. in April 2021 in a run that saw nearly $50 million in combined spending by its opponents and outside groups.

“I don’t think people expected Kathy Barnette to come into the middle this strong last week,” a Trump ally said. “The biggest story in the last week of this run is its momentum, and so it’s getting both earned and paid media. It’s a two-for-one.

Barnette’s late rise in the polls has also left her opponents little time to change the way voters view her, leaving her in a less vulnerable position than Oz and McCormick, who have worked for months to run as a unflattering day.

“You can be negative with her, but you only have a week to present her in a negative way and I don’t think there’s much to it from a conservative point of view. I’ve never heard talk about anything where I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that’ll be very effective,'” the Trump ally said.

The former president is still figuring out if he can do anything to give Oz an extra boost in the race, the Trump adviser said, noting that Trump was already planning to hold a tele-rally and to target Republican voters with robocalls ahead of the primary. Trump also held a campaign rally outside Pittsburgh last Friday, where he repeatedly ripped McCormick to turn voters against him.

“He is absolutely the candidate for special interests and the globalists and the establishment in Washington. … David is totally controlled … by Mitch McConnell, the old crow, the broken old crow,” Trump said.

Notably, the former president did not mention Barnette once in his remarks.

Inside Trump’s orbit, Barnette’s rapid rise from obscurity to a legitimate contender is seen as a direct result of the mud contest that’s been going on between Oz and McCormick over the past few months. It’s a classic case of a candidate running in the middle, allies of the former president have said, with one comparing Barnette to Sen. Deb Fischer, whose stripped campaign defeated two well-funded Tea Party darlings. in the 2012 Nebraska GOP Senate primary.

McCormick and Oz, both self-funded, have each spent more than $10 million on TV advertising so far, most of it on vicious attack ads against each other. Although Oz received official support from Trump last month, McCormick continued to raise questions about his opponent’s MAGA credentials while portraying himself as a true ally of the 45th president.

“Dave, I want to congratulate you. You have served our country well in so many different ways,” Trump could be heard telling McCormick in an old video clip featured in an ad launched by McCormick’s campaign this week.

The heated battle between Oz and McCormick playing out on Pennsylvanians’ television screens has left both men with significantly higher unfavorable ratings than Barnette, according to the Fox poll, which found 46% of Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania don’t don’t see Oz. favorably. It created a giant opening for Barnette in the final days of the race, one of Trump’s allies said.

“For four to five months now, McCormick and Oz have spent millions of dollars bombing each other. Who would you rather be? said the Trump adviser.

Still, Barnette’s allies expect her two main opponents to direct some of their attacks at her now that she’s registered more of a threat in the polls.

“’I’m sure they’ll come after her. There’s no doubt they’ll do something about it,” said former U.S. Representative from Kansas Tim Huelskamp, ​​senior adviser to CatholicVote, who praised Barnette as “genuinely pro-life” and claimed she was “now within striking distance” of her competitors in an endorsement. announcement on Tuesday.

“But if they do that, they’ll just draw attention to the fact that she’s what they’re trying to be: an authentic conservative and Pennsylvanian,” Huelskamp added.

As Huelskamp’s group launches a pro-Barnette text message campaign that will target church-going Catholics in the state the group has identified as anti-abortion Republicans, the other boost for Barnette will come from the purchase of Club for Growth ads.

The group’s $1.9 million publicity blitz for Barnette caught several Trump allies off guard who had expected Club for Growth President David McIntosh to keep a low profile after his relationship with the former president took a turn for the worse in the final weeks of Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary. . McIntosh had ordered the Club for Growth to continue attacking JD Vance on the air following Trump’s endorsement, though Vance still prevailed against his Club-backed opponent Josh Mandel in the end.

“That’s what really caught people’s attention, because before the Club investment, it was thought that she had some momentum, but the others are going to spend millions of dollars this week and drown her out,” said said one of the Trumps. allies.

“Even when her numbers started to rise, no one expected her to have the resources to get on TV. That obviously changes if the club is going to spend $2 million on her now,” the person added.

An Oz loss — to either Barnette or McCormick — could mark the start of a tough time for Trump, who has backed several competing candidates in contested primaries this month.

In addition to Pennsylvania, where Trump was eventually convinced to support Oz by his wife, Melania, and allies like Fox host Sean Hannity, he endorsed Representative Ted Budd in North Carolina, who is also participating in a Senate primary next Tuesday, against former GOP Governor Pat McCrory. And later this month, Trump will have several candidates competing in primaries across Georgia, including gubernatorial challenger David Perdue, whom Trump has personally recruited as he works to rid the GOP of elected officials – like incumbent Governor Brian Kemp – who have refused to embrace his refuted claims about the 2020 election.

With the exception of Charles Herbster’s loss in Nebraska amid several sexual misconduct allegations, Trump has been able to reasonably argue so far that his endorsement does indeed make a difference in competitive racing – clearing Vance of a possible third place to a comfortable victory. in the U.S. Senate primary from Ohio last week and giving Rep. Alex Mooney a boost in a heated congressional primary from West Virginia this week.

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