A favorite with a tattoo and a hoodie who suffers from a stroke at 11 a.m., and a far-right fire that is part of the controversy: the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is voting Tuesday in interim primaries marked by more than a share of last-minute drama.
With key races in several states, this is the most important day in the primary scorched earth season – and will be the latest test of Donald Trump’s continued influence on his Republican Party.
Individuals hoping in North Carolina, Oregon, Kentucky and Idaho are vying to represent their party in November in Congress and the state election, but all eyes are on the Senate competition in Pennsylvania.
For months, the Republican race looked like a toss between hedge fund tycoon David McCormick and telesurgeon Mehmet Oz, who has the approval of former President Trump – as a number of successful contenders to date.
But the race in Pennsylvania in recent days has been shaken by a surge of rebel contender Katie Barnett, who is virtually on par with her rivals, who are spending big.
Barnett was so backward that the first leaders spent little time digging into her origins until the last days, when a series of anti-Islamic and homophobic statements was not revealed.
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Oz, who will become the first Muslim Republican senator if elected, drew attention to a post on social media in 2015 in which Barnett said that “pedophilia is the cornerstone of Islam.”
She falsely refused to publish the insults and told Fox News on Sunday that some of her inflammatory messages were aimed at starting a conversation rather than “full thoughts”.
She is also facing questions about her appearance at the Stop the Steal rally, which turned into a riot in the US Capitol in 2021, and the spread of false statements by Trump about election fraud.
– “Complete recovery” –
A Fox News poll released this week found that Barnet was supported by 19 percent of respondents, McCormick by 20 percent and Oz by 22 percent.
Barnett, who opposes abortion, has risen among conservatives after strongly telling her mother that she was raped at age 11 and gave birth to her at just 12.
“I would never be born in the world the left wants,” she tweeted earlier this month.
“Honestly, things have changed so fast in the last 10 days that it’s hard to predict a winner,” Donna Patterson, head of political science at the University of Delaware, told AFP.
Whatever Republicans win on Tuesday will face a Democrat candidate – who hopes to snatch control of the Pennsylvania chair and thus consolidate their razor-sharp control of the Senate.
Republican leaders are concerned that Barnett will be unable to expand its appeal beyond the party base, which costs it a significant victory.
Trump echoed this message last week, warning that Barnett “will never be able to win a general election against the left-wing radical Democrats.”
Oz’s support from the former president will serve as a new test of his influence on Republicans after a series of successful endorsements in the state’s first three primaries, but the failure of a high-profile candidate in Nebraska a week ago.
The Pennsylvania primaries made another turn, this time on the Democratic side, when Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the overwhelming favorite in the party’s Senate primaries, suffered a stroke Friday.
The Liberal with the tattoo, 2.05 meters tall, said he had not received cognitive impairment and was expected to “fully recover” but remained hospitalized.
His company said Tuesday that he was being implanted with a pacemaker with a defibrillator, which should be “a short procedure to help protect his heart and eliminate the root cause of the stroke.”
According to a recent poll by Franklin and Marshall University, Fetterman is ahead of Marine veteran and moderate U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb by nearly 40 percentage points.