May 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans on edge over potential Barnette win

Kathy Barnette is seen walking onstage.
Kathy Barnette. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Senate Republicans, hungry to reclaim their chamber's majority, were nervously watching Tuesday's Senate primary in Pennsylvania — fearing a potential win by Kathy Barnette could jeopardize their chances in November.

Why it matters: Barnette and Eric Greitens in Missouri are at the top of a list of extreme or controversial candidates in primaries this year who sitting senators fear may be too much for general-election voters to support.

  • Barnette participated in the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally in D.C.; Greitens resigned his governorship four years ago amid scandal and disgrace.
  • Pennsylvania is also a crucial state for Republicans, given it’s a seat they're trying to hold.
  • Barnette's surprise surge in the closing weeks made her a serious challenger in a race that previously seemed between Trump-backed Mehmet Oz and financier David McCormick.

What they're saying: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Axios he thinks Barnette “could be problematic."

  • “We need to do a better job of vetting these candidates," the senator said. "I'm pretty confident Oz is gonna make it, but the fact that she went from zero to 60 — that's a compliment to her, I guess. But we gotta have a system that can catch this better. You don't want to learn all this stuff, like, a week before the election.”
  • “What you look for in somebody is to make sure that somebody can cross the finish line in the general election. When you feel like they can’t, that’s when you need to be more vocal.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Axios, “Yes,” he's very worried that Barnette and other controversial candidates could win the general election.

  • “I’m concerned because I’ve watched this over time.”

Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — whose upcoming departure triggered one of the most contested 2022 elections — wouldn’t say whether he’d support Barnette if she won the GOP nomination in his home state.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Axios he's supporting McCormick's bid in Pennsylvania — and Eric Schmitt's in Missouri — because “my approach in primaries is to support the strongest conservative who can win."

The other side: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, isn't endorsing in primaries.

  • He said, “I don't think Washington's the best chooser of who's gonna win elections" and that "every state is different."

The bottom line: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t discuss concerns about Barnette’s candidacy — or say if he'll embrace her if she wins the nomination.

  • “The election is [Tuesday]," he said, "and we’ll take a look at it after we see who the nominee is."
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