Primary campaign ends with one candidate in hospital, others scrambling

MARC LEVY
The Associated Press

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.

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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.

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 for governor and U.S. Senate.

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 that he streamed online with the Light of Liberty podcast.

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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.

“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.

She 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.”

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.

Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano (R - Franklin County) speaks during the ''Medical Freedom Rally'' on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, on Nov. 9, 2021, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Paul Weaver/Zuma Press/TNS)

Trump himself has warned that Barnette cannot win in the fall — yet Mastriano is campaigning with her. Together, Mastriano and Barnette have spent a fraction of the money that some of their rivals have.

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 name for his government philosophy.

In addition to new attack ads on TV targeting Barnette, she is being asked about a history of incendiary comments, which include disparaging Muslims and gays, and contradictory statements about the length of her past military service and whether she voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential primary.

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“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 on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh on Monday, laughed off the attacks as a product of the Republican “swamp.”

“They are really mad and they are pulling out all the stops," she said.

She said her Islamophobic tweets were taken out of context.

Kathy Barnette takes part in a forum for Republican candidates for U.S. Senate at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, on April 2.

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 recent days.

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."