HARRISBURG, Pa. – The last full day of campaigning in Pennsylvania's hotly contested primaries for governor and U.S. Senate began Monday with a top Senate candidate in the hospital and establishment Republicans trying to stave off victories by candidates they worry will be unelectable in the fall.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is leading in polls and fundraising in the Democratic Party's primary for U.S. Senate, remained in the hospital Monday after suffering a stroke right before the weekend.
His campaign said he won't appear at Tuesday's election night party in Pittsburgh, though Fetterman said Sunday that he is feeling better, expected to make a full recovery and will resume campaigning after getting some rest.
Meanwhile, new attack ads are airing against late-surging Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette as many in the Republican Party establishment have begun trying to consolidate their support to prevent Doug Mastriano from winning the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the presidential battleground state.
Some Republicans fear Barnette and Mastriano are too polarizing to beat Democratic opponents in a general election. Barnette and Mastriano have campaigned together, endorsed each other and promoted conspiracy theories, including former President Donald Trump's lies that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.
They also have spent a fraction of the money that some of their rivals have.
The scrambling reflects the high stakes of Tuesday's elections in Pennsylvania and the uncertainty that has rattled the campaigns in the last week amid news of Fetterman's hospitalization and last-minute jockeying in the Republican primaries.
In the governor's race, an organization that has reported spending about $13 million to boost Republican candidate Bill McSwain, a lawyer who was Donald Trump’s appointee for U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, switched its allegiance to former congressman Lou Barletta barely two days before polls close.
Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, a business advocacy group whose political action committees are conduits for cash from billionaire Jeffrey Yass, said it believes Barletta has the best chance to beat Mastriano. The group is now calling on McSwain to drop out and endorse Barletta.
Mastriano, newly endorsed by Trump, belittled efforts by Republicans to defeat him and characterizes Democrats, including President Joe Biden, as far-left radicals.
“The swamp struck back, but they struck and they failed, they missed, and Donald Trump came in in the midst of their conspiring with each other’s swamp-like creatures and endorsed me and cut the legs out from underneath them,” Mastriano said in an interview Monday with the Light of Liberty podcast.
Meanwhile, in the hard-fought Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Barnette worked to fend off growing attacks from former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Mehmet Oz, Trump's endorsed candidate.
Barnette said on conservative Breitbart Radio on Monday that “I'm not a globalist, both of them are" and that they have “very strong ties to the World Economic Forum," an organization that has been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories.
They are pretending to be “Trump card-carrying members of the patriot party,” she said, and she called Oz — he was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Turkey and holds dual citizenship — “not only an American, but Turkish as well.”
“Globalist” is a derogatory term with an antisemitic origin adopted by Trump and others in his orbit to conjure up an elite, international coterie that doesn’t serve America’s best interests.
Barnette also suggested on Breitbart Radio that she would not support Oz or McCormick if they win the primary, saying, “I have no intentions of supporting globalists.”
However, she later seemed to contradict herself, telling reporters in Scranton: “I do believe they are globalists, and I find that very unnerving. But ... I will do everything I can for the GOP in order to make sure we win, and make sure Democrats do not win.”
Trump's endorsements of both Mastriano and Oz have twisted Pennsylvania's Republican establishment into contradictions, as some warn that Mastriano is too far to the right to beat Democrat Josh Shapiro in the fall general election.
Trump himself has warned that Barnette cannot win in the fall — yet Mastriano is campaigning with her. In a telephone townhall Monday night with Oz, Trump warned that when Barnette is “vetted, it’s going to be a catastrophe for the party.”
With polls showing a late surge for Barnette, Trump’s attacks reflected an eleventh-hour behind-the-scenes scramble by Trump allies and rival campaigns to discredit her. If elected, she would be the first Black Republican woman to serve in the Senate.
On Monday, the Oz campaign sent out a 90-second robocall to Republican voters featuring Trump urging them to vote for Oz and attacking McCormick and Barnette as “not candidates who put America First," Trump's label for his governing philosophy.
In addition to new attack ads targeting Barnette, she is being asked about a history of incendiary comments, which include disparaging Muslims and gays. She said her Islamophobic tweets were taken out of context.
She is also being asked whether she was involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol after participating in Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally that day. She was not, she said.
“It’s confusing to understand Kathy Barnette. Every time she answers a question, she raises many more," Oz said on the “Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio.
Barnette, speaking to several dozen supporters at a Scranton hotel Monday evening, said her rivals are lying about her because she is winning.
“Do you really want to hear more smear attacks, more attacks, throwing people under the bus, using leftist-like tactics to try to destroy one of their own?" Barnette questioned.
McCormick, a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who has strong connections to the party establishment going back to his service in President George W. Bush's administration, has also been criticized repeatedly by Trump in the last two weeks.
Nevertheless, McCormick is closing the campaign by airing a TV ad showing a video clip of Trump in a private 2020 ceremony congratulating McCormick, saying "you've served our country well in so many different ways."
“You know why he said that,” McCormick says in the TV ad. “Because it's true. I risked my life for America and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. ... I'm a pro-life, pro-gun, America First conservative and damn proud of it."
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Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pa. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter