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How Kathy Barnette Became a GOP Front-Runner for Pa. Senate

While Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick have spent millions of dollars campaigning against each other, Barnette has, for two years, been building grass-roots support and establishing herself as a MAGA movement star.

(TNS) — To those just tuning in to Pennsylvania's closely watched U.S. Senate race, it might seem as if Kathy Barnette came out of nowhere to rocket to the top of the polls in the Republican primary.

After all, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick have spent tens of millions of dollars beating each other up with TV ads — only to see the lesser-known conservative commentator from Montgomery County come within striking distance of the party's nomination in the May 17 election.

But Barnette has actually been traveling across the state for more than two years, building grassroots support for her campaigns and establishing herself as something of a star in Pennsylvania's MAGA movement.

It all started with her first run for Congress in 2020 — or, more to the point, in the aftermath of that election, which Barnette lost to Rep. Madeleine Dean by 19 percentage points in a deeply blue district outside Philadelphia.

What began as a post-election door-knocking operation looking for potential voting irregularities metastasized into a baseless hunt for voter fraud that pulled in state lawmakers, key players in the election denial movement like My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell — and eventually reached former President Donald Trump himself.

The election wasn't close. Pretty much no one expected Kathy Barnette to win, and there was certainly no shame in losing this one.

But for weeks after an almost 20-point drubbing in a strongly Democratic district in the Philly suburbs, Barnette, the losing Republican candidate, couldn't shake the feeling that it didn't add up.

It started to make sense for her, she recalled, as she was watching TV in late November, about a month after her loss to Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. Across the country in Arizona, a man was claiming as many as 306,000 "fake people" had voted in that state's election. And he said he had spreadsheets to prove it.

Of course, "fake people" don't vote in the United States. When Bobby Piton made that baseless charge — as Barnette watched from 2,300 miles away — it was an unremarkable moment in the evolution of Donald Trump's political movement into one increasingly defined by his lies of a stolen election.

A few days later, Barnette said, she contacted Piton, an Illinois financial planner who spoke of "phantom" voters inflating Joe Biden's numbers. With his data, Barnette and her supporters started knocking on hundreds of doors in the Democratic stronghold of Montgomery County, looking for evidence her defeat was tainted.

It was the beginning of a hunt for voter fraud that rippled across the American election denial movement.

The hunt helped launch the career of a once-obscure Cincinnati schoolteacher-turned-election denier whose ideas have now reached Trump himself. It led to meetings between Barnette's team and state lawmakers as they undertook a massive election overhaul. It helped stir the frenzy for a new, partisan election investigation in Pennsylvania. It drew in a programmer who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy — and eventually attracted Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO and most indefatigable election denier of them all.

And as Barnette energized the denial movement with her futile hunt for voter fraud on Philadelphia's Main Line, which hasn't been previously reported, the movement elevated her.

She's now running in Pennsylvania's critical 2022 Senate race, raising more money than better-known opponents. She's become a familiar face in the MAGA media universe, with regular appearances on Newsmax and OAN. She even got an endorsement from Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who's become an icon on the pro-Trump right.

(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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