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Donald Trump is hedging his bets. His candidate in the Pennsylvania race for the US Senate, famed doctor Mehmet Oz, looks set to lose to a political draw in Tuesday’s primaries. So on Saturday, Trump endorsed State Senator Doug Mastriano, the far-right favorite in the Pennsylvania governor’s primary.
The move appears to be a way for Trump to save face and pretend his endorsement is more powerful than it actually is. Last month, Trump surprised many of his supporters when he put his weight behind Oz, who really isn’t anyone’s idea of a MAGA warrior. Since then, “ultra-MAGA” candidate Kathy Barnette has surged in the polls and has now joined another candidate, David McCormick, in the margin of error behind Oz, according to a recent Fox News poll.
Barnette’s harsh right-wing rhetoric and her story of overcoming the adversity she faced as a black girl in the Alabama campaign resonated with Trump supporters. It’s an embarrassing development for Trump, who is testing the loyalty of his bases by urging them to vote for a TV doctor.
In interviews with Pennsylvania Republicans, The New York Times found deep skepticism toward Oz and admiration for Barnette. An 83-year-old woman named Dolores Mrozinski told Times reporter Jennifer Medina that Barnette was not nonsense and the real thing. His daughter said of Oz, Looks like he got a facelift.
Barnette is now near the top of the polls, despite having far less money and institutional support than her rivals. His followers don’t seem to care about his record of anti-Muslim and anti-gay comments. Instead, they seem inspired by her message about how she became a Senate candidate after growing up in a house with no insulation or running water. The closest to an election before this year was losing a 2020 House race by nearly 20 points.
In the race for governors, Mastriano built up a roughly 10-point lead over his rivals before securing support from Trump. He played a central role in Trump’s efforts in Pennsylvania to nullify the 2020 election. He also organized bus trips to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and was outside of the Capitol that day, although there is no evidence that he entered the building and was not charged with breaking any laws. There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more or fought harder for electoral integrity than State Sen. Doug Mastriano, Trump said in his endorsement of Mastriano. He exposed the deception, corruption and outright theft of the 2020 presidential election, and will do something about it.
Earlier this week, Trump’s favorite candidate in the Nebraska gubernatorial race, Charles Herbster, lost his primary. Herbster had impeccable Trumpian credentials, but he was also accused of sexual assault by eight women, including a Nebraska state senator. Despite the allegations, which Herbster denied, Trump traveled to Nebraska to campaign on Herbster’s behalf. Trump’s loss in the Nebraska contest came just after he played a key role in winning JD Vance in the Ohios GOP Senate primary.
Pennsylvania will provide another test of Trump’s influence. Fox News host Sean Hannity, a close Trump ally, went out of his way to attack Barnette ahead of the primary. Trump said in a statement that she can never win the general election against hard-left Democrats.
The problem for Trump is that many of his supporters make up their own minds, including Mastriano himself, who backed Barnette and campaigned alongside him. Michael Testa, an Army veteran and handyman interviewed by The Times, drives a van with Trump Won stickers. But Testa, who has yet to decide who he will vote for in the Senate primary, said: I will not be someone who does something just because someone says it, even if that person is Trump.
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