All eyes are on Pennsylvania as parties nominate gubernatorial, Senate candidates

All eyes are on Pennsylvania as parties nominate gubernatorial, Senate candidates

This Tuesday, May 17 will be a major day in the swing state of Pennsylvania, which will be holding Democratic and Republican primaries for a variety of positions — including primaries for lieutenant governor, seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and seats in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. The two most closely watched primaries, however, will be the ones for governor and the U.S. Senate seat presently held by arch-conservative Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. And Pennsylvania, just before the primaries, is being rocked by developments that range from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman suffering a stroke to former President Donald Trump endorsing far-right QAnon supporter Doug Mastriano in the gubernatorial primary.

Fetterman, a progressive ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders, is the frontrunner in Pennsylvania’s 2022 Democratic U.S. Senate primary and is polling way ahead of his centrist rival Conor Lamb. On Friday, May 13, Fetterman suffered a stroke that appears to have been a minor one — and he has no plans to drop out of the race.

In an official statement issued on Sunday, May 15 — only two days before the primary — Fetterman explained, “On Friday, I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital to get checked out. I hadn’t been feeling well, but was so focused on the campaign that I ignored the signs and just kept going. On Friday, it finally caught up with me. I had a stroke that was caused by a clot from my heart being in an A-fib rhythm for too long.”

The Pennsylvania lieutenant governor added, “The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage. I’m well on my way to a full recovery.”

If Fetterman wins the primary, he may be going up against Dr. Mehmet Oz — the Republican Party frontrunner — in the general election. But that primary is much closer, especially with the unexpected last-minute surge of Oz’s far-right opponent Kathy Barnette. A Fox News poll released on May 10 found Oz, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, only 3% ahead of Barnette and 2% ahead of candidate David McCormick (who Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has endorsed). Factoring in the margin of error, that poll shows Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary to be essentially a three-way battle between Oz, McCormick and Barnette.

Barnette is so far to the right that even Trump considers her unelectable. In an official statement reaffirming his support for Oz, Trump said, “Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the general election against the radical left Democrats.”

To say that Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP U.S. Senate primary has been a total circus would be an understatement. The primary underscores everything that is at once repugnant and wacky about the Trumpified GOP.

Oz, in the past, was a moderate conservative along the lines of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the late Sen. John McCain. But these days, he is jumping through hoops to show how MAGA he is — and he is campaigning on removing Dr. Anthony Fauci from the federal government. Even with that performative buffoonery, however, Oz is still to the left of Barnette — which isn’t saying much.

Barnette’s far-right platform is as anti-gay as it is anti-Islam; when Barack Obama was president, she was a birther who promoted the conspiracy theory that Obama was a closet Muslim. And Barnette is also campaigning on outlawing abortion even for rape victims.

But as extreme-right as Barnette is, her Republican opponents are attacking the candidate — an African-American woman who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs — as a Black Lives Matter supporter. Barnette is no BLM supporter; she has a lot more in common with Infowars’ Alex Jones than she does with anyone in the Black Lives Matter movement.

A more legitimate criticism of Barnette coming from the Oz camp is that she is an Islamophobe. Oz is a Turkish-American Muslim, and he is right about one thing: Christian nationalists who lump him in with ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria), the Taliban and al-Qaeda simply because he reads the Holy Koran and prays to Mecca are “reprehensible.”

If Oz defeats Barnette and McCormick in the primary and defeats likely nominee Fetterman in the general election, he would become the first Muslim in the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary, the frontrunner, Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano, is a “Stop the Steal” extremist and a QAnon sympathizer who has been campaigning on the Big Lie. If he wins the primary, Mastriano will almost certainly be going up against Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro — who is unopposed on the Democratic side and is the presumptive nominee. Although many GOP activists in Pennsylvania believe that Mastriano would lose the general election against Shapiro, Trump has endorsed him at the last minute.

Liberal Washington Post opinion columnist Greg Sargent sounded the alarm about Mastriano in his May 12 column, warning that the MAGA candidate’s views are dangerously authoritarian and that he doesn’t believe in democracy.

“Mastriano didn’t just try to help Trump overturn the election,” Sargent explained. “At the time, he also essentially declared his support for the notion that the popular vote can be treated as non-binding when it comes to the certification of presidential electors. Mastriano is now running for a position that exerts real control over the process of certifying electors. Republicans fear he could secure the nomination, because he might be a weak general-election candidate. But forecasters note that in a bad enough year, he could win.”

Polls released in May have found Mastriano leading primary opponent Lou Barletta by 18% (Emerson College), 10% (Trafalgar Group) or 12% (Fox News).

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