Pennsylvania GOP scrambles to block Republican primary candidates it fears are unelectable


Republicans are afraid Doug Mastriano and Kathy Barnette would lose in November against Democratic candidates.

Republicans in Pennsylvania are racing to stop two right-wing candidates from winning the party's nominations for governor and U.S. Senate in the May 17 primary, fearing that the candidates' long list of offensive comments and outside-the-mainstream policy positions could cost the party in the general election in November.

Republicans worry that GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano and activist Kathy Barnette will be unelectable in the general elections for governor and Senate, respectively.

Mastriano, who was on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by supporters of President Donald Trump and has said he wants to ban all abortions, appears to be the front-runner less than a week before the primary election.

And Barnette, who has a long history of making bigoted comments about Muslims and the LGBTQ community, appears to be surging in the Senate race as Trump-endorsed candidate Mehmet Oz and businessman Dave McCormick drag each other down in a brutal primary battle.

In the governor's race, state Senate President Jake Corman, one of the handful of GOP candidates running, dropped out on Thursday morning and endorsed primary opponent and former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta. Experts say it's an effort to consolidate the Republican vote and coalesce against Mastriano, who according to RealClearPolitics' polling average currently has a 10-point lead in the primary race.

At an event with Barletta, Corman warned Republicans about nominating Mastriano, saying that Republicans should not nominate someone "who can't possibly win in the fall."

Polling shows that Mastriano could be in trouble against Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed.

An internal GOP poll leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer finds Shapiro leading Mastriano in a head-to-head matchup by 49% to 41%. The Inquirer's Andrew Seidman tweeted that Pennsylvania Republicans are "plotting an 11th-hour plan" to stop Mastriano from winning the primary.

Meanwhile, the race for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey has Republicans on the offensive against candidate Barnette. Fox News host Sean Hannity spent his Wednesday night program bashing the candidate, highlighting some of Barnette's tweets criticizing Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"With only six days left in this campaign there are serious real open questions about the surging Kathy Barnette campaign and where she truly stands on issues," Hannity said.

Barnette is also on the rise, despite the fact that Trump endorsed Oz and traveled to Pennsylvania to campaign for him. Barnette now trails Oz in the RealClearPolitics average by just 2 points.

Barnette's past comments include attacks on former President Barack Obama, of whom she tweeted in 2016, ""Nooooo! It's not possible!!! Obama would NEVER lie or evade the American people. He's a Muslim, errrr, American..."

She's also attacked the LGBTQ community, tweeting in 2015, "Obama did what he does best: shoving his homosexual agenda down everyone's throat. Paraded a slew of gays before d Pope. #Pope." Barnette, who is also against abortion rights, has been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

Republicans are hoping that a favorable political environment in November will help them win the race for governor, a position term-limited incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has held for two terms, and protect the Senate seat held by the retiring Toomey. Pennsylvania is a competitive state: President Joe Biden carried it by just 1.2 points in the 2020 election.

But they fear that Mastriano and Barnette will complicate those efforts.

There's precedent for the GOP losing otherwise winnable elections in years in which they've swept other races due to the quality of its candidates and their campaigns.

In 2010, when Republicans romped to victory in the House, the GOP lost Senate races in Nevada and Delaware due, observers say, to the inept campaigns of Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell.

And in 2012, Republicans lost runs for House seats in otherwise red states when Missouri candidate Todd Akin said of pregnancy resulting from rape, "It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," and Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock said, "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Inside Elections, a nonpartisan political handicapping outlet, currently rates the Pennsylvania governor's race "tilts Democratic" and the Senate race "tilts Republican."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.