A late surge from Kathy Barnette in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary is officially on former President Trump’s radar.
Mr. Trump criticized Ms. Barnette, a conservative author and political commentator, on Thursday and said she was unvetted and unelectable. “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the radical left Democrats,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.
Ms. Barnett’s momentum in the polls has jeopardized Mr. Trump’s second attempt to influence the primary race, which comes to a close on Tuesday. He endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz, a longtime television host, after his first choice for the seat, Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign in November amid a court battle over the custody of his children.
Ms. Barnette’s sudden rise comes as Dr. Oz has been locked in a contentious primary fight with David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive with deep ties to Mr. Trump’s political orbit. A Fox News Poll on Tuesday showed her at 19 percent, behind Mr. McCormick at 20 percent and Dr. Oz at 22 percent.
Her climb has surprised many watching the Pennsylvania race — including Mr. Trump, who never seriously considered supporting her before he announced his endorsement of Dr. Oz less than five weeks ago, according to two people familiar with the decision who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
But Ms. Barnette’s candidacy is being taken seriously by the Club for Growth, which endorsed her on Wednesday and announced a $2 million TV ad buy to support her. Her opponents, meanwhile, are scrambling to dig up dirt, like a 2016 tweet in which she claimed then-President Barack Obama was a Muslim. (Mr. Trump repeatedly raised doubts about Mr. Obama’s faith and questioned whether he was a Muslim.)
Another sign of the staying power of Ms. Barnette’s surge: Mr. Trump’s criticism of her record allowed for the possibility that she may win. That contrasts sharply with how he has repeatedly attacked Mr. McCormick.
“She has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted,” Mr. Trump said in his statement, “but if she is able to do so, she will have a wonderful future in the Republican Party — and I will be behind her all the way.”