To a degree surpassing any other contest in the 2022 midterms so far, Donald Trump has poured his personal prestige into Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary race, which is going through a final spasm of uncertainty as Kathy Barnette, an insurgent candidate with a sparse résumé, gives a last-minute scare to Trump’s pick, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The outcome of that election, as well as the G.O.P. contest for governor, is threatening to implode the state’s Republican Party — with a blast radius that might be felt in states as far away as Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina over the coming weeks and months.
The turbulence also has major implications for Trump’s hold on the party, which is growing more alarmed that the former president’s involvement in primaries could scupper Republicans’ chances of reclaiming the Senate despite President Biden’s unpopularity.
Trump endorsed Oz, a celebrity physician, over the advice of many Republicans inside and outside Pennsylvania. The bill is coming due, those Republicans now say.
Many of Trump’s own voters have expressed skepticism of Oz, who has fended off millions of dollars in negative advertising highlighting his past Republican heterodoxies on issues as varied as abortion and gun rights. As of Monday, Oz is leading by nearly three percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in the primary, which roughly matches the Oz campaign’s latest daily tracking poll, I’m told.
It’s not clear how late-deciding Republicans will ultimately vote, although a new poll by Susquehanna University found that 45 percent of respondents who had made up their minds “in the last few days” were backing Barnette.
A late endorsement
On Saturday, Trump finally endorsed Doug Mastriano, a conspiracy-theory-minded retired military officer who leads polls in the governor’s race, in an apparent attempt to hedge his bets.
“He’s clearly upset that it’s not going his way,” said David Urban, a political operative and early Trump backer who led the former president’s efforts to win Pennsylvania in the 2016 election.
Urban is supporting Dave McCormick, a fellow West Point graduate, in the Senate race, and said he had not spoken to Trump recently about the primary.
The McCormick camp is hoping the fireworks between Barnette and Oz will earn him a second look from voters, who seem to be wavering between the three leading contenders.
Not everyone’s buying it.
One veteran Republican operative in Pennsylvania who is not aligned with any Senate campaign likened McCormick to Hans Gruber, the villain in the movie “Die Hard,” who tries to fire upward at Bruce Willis’s character even as he is falling from the top of Nakatomi Plaza.
Barnette has endorsed Mastriano and vice versa, and the two have held events together — almost as if they are running together as a kind of super-MAGA ticket. She has fended off questions about her background in recent days, including about her military service and her past Islamophobic comments.
Oz, who if elected would become America’s first Muslim senator, called those comments “disqualifying” and “reprehensible” in an interview on Saturday with The Associated Press.
In the governor’s race, Republicans aligned with the party establishment are desperate to stop Mastriano from winning the nomination, and have urged other candidates to unite around former Representative Lou Barletta, who is running for governor with the help of several former top Trump campaign aides.
One of the first members of Congress to embrace Trump, former Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, blasted the former president at a news conference this weekend for what he said was a lack of “loyalty” to Barletta.
In a follow-up interview, Marino said he hadn’t been planning to endorse anyone in the race, but decided to back Barletta because he felt…
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