Could Kathy Barnette be the Pennsylvania GOP’s answer to Rich Strike?

Like the horse that unexpectedly vaulted from the back of the pack to triumph in last weekend’s Kentucky Derby, Barnette, the Fox News commentator, author and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has suddenly caught up with frontrunners David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz in the much-watched battle to be the nominee for the seat being vacated by fellow Republican Pat Toomey.

After months of a brutal slugfest between McCormick and Oz, in recent days Barnette has pulled even with them in public opinion polls. All three candidates have about 25% support, with the remainder scattered between undecided and two other candidates, Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands. This is hardly a state of play anyone would have anticipated even a couple of weeks ago.

The fate of Barnette, Oz, McCormick and scores of other candidates will be decided in Tuesday’s primary election. It will arguably be the first routine primary the commonwealth has had since 2019 – the primary in 2020 was pushed back one month as COVID-19 took hold, and last year’s primary happened as the pandemic raged on.

This year, Republicans will not only be deciding who their nominee will be for the U.S. Senate, but they will also be choosing a gubernatorial nominee. State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a hard-right supporter of former President Trump who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has taken the lead in a crowded field. But several reports have indicated Republican leaders are attempting to derail a potential Mastriano nomination, fearing he would be defeated in November. Late last week, GOP gubernatorial candidates Jake Corman, the president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, and Melissa Hart, a former congresswoman, dropped out and threw their support behind Lou Barletta, a former congressman and former mayor of Hazleton, who is viewed by some as being more palatable to a wider range of voters. Barletta also scored last-minute endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Gov. Mark Schweiker and former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

Sam DeMarco, chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Party, told Politico last week, “We’re in a year where all evidence points to a red tsunami. And it appears here in Pennsylvania, because of the number of people in the race, and (Mastriano’s) small but consistent base of support, we may be nominating the only Republican who would be unelectable in November.”

In contrast, the Democratic races for governor and senator are nowhere close to being as unsettled. Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, is running unopposed for his party’s gubernatorial nod, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has a commanding lead in polls against Conor Lamb, the congressman whose district includes portions of Allegheny and Beaver counties. Also competing in the Democratic Senate contest is state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, incumbents in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties will, for the most part, be running without opposition in the Tuesday primary. U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler is facing no Republican opponent, and nor will he be facing a Democratic opponent in the fall. His reconfigured district still includes Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, but has expanded to take in parts of Indiana and Somerset counties and a smaller portion of Westmoreland County.

Also facing no primary or general election opposition this year are state Sen. Camera Bartolotta and state Reps. Tim O’Neal, Josh Kail, Ryan Warner and Jason Ortitay.

In the 40th Legislative District, which includes Peters Township and South Hills communities in Allegheny County, incumbent state Rep. Natalie Mihalek is facing a challenge Tuesday from fellow Republican Steve Renz. Both are Peters residents, with Renz describing himself as “a true conservative.” Whoever wins Tuesday will have the race sewn up, since no Democratic candidate has entered the race. Also, in the 39th Legislative District, state Rep. Mike Puskaric will again face a Republican primary challenge from Andrew Kuzma, an attorney and former Elizabeth commissioner.

In Fayette County’s 51st District, Republican state Rep. Matthew Dowling is facing a primary challenge from Ryan Porupski, the president of the school board in the Albert Gallatin Area School District. State Rep. Bud Cook, who currently represents the 49th Legislative District, is running unopposed for the GOP nomination in the redrawn 50th Legislative District. In the fall, he will be opposed by Democrat Douglas Mason of Franklin.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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