Kathy Barnette, surging in her run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has called transgender people "deformed" and "demonic," said marriage equality will lead to acceptance of incest and pedophilia, and claimed pedophilia is a central tenet of Islam.
Barnette, a conservative commentator, has made the race a close contest between her, doctor and TV personality Mehmet Oz, and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick, CNN reports. A Fox News poll released this week showed Oz -- who has Donald Trump's endorsement -- with support from 22 percent of respondents, McCormick with 20 percent, and Barnette with 19 percent. A few other candidates had single-digit support, while 18 percent of respondents were undecided.
"Even though Oz got Trump's endorsement, Barnette has more momentum," pollster Chris Anderson told Fox. "Her support doubled in two months, her supporters are the most interested, and her negatives are much lower than Oz or McCormick."
The primary is next Tuesday.
But some Republicans are worried that her history of hateful comments makes her a less-than-desirable candidate, likely to lose in November's general election. A CNN KFile report has documented many of her statements.
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled for nationwide marriage equality in 2015, Barnette denounced same-sex relationships. "Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal," she said on her radio show, Truth Exchange, according to KFile. The show and its website are no longer active, but posts are archived.
In the same episode, she said, "If love is the litmus test, who are we to say, well, your love is legitimate love, same-sex couples, but your love, father and daughter, is not legitimate. Or your love, one man and three women is not legitimate, or one older man and a 12-year-old child. If love is the litmus test, it becomes a very slippery slope. And that is where we, we find ourselves today." Barnette removed the episode from her SoundCloud page after KFile asked her for comment.
Also in 2015, she referred to newly out transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner as "deformed" and "demonic," and she said trans youth activist Jazz Jennings was merely "confused." She has hosted "ex-gays" and posted this online warning: "Transgender is Coming After the HEARTS & MINDS of our Culture." She has warned of "the aggressive homosexual agenda" as well.
Her anti-Muslim comments are just as noxious. "In one post, on her website, Barnette shared an obviously doctored image of a Muslim man holding up a sign in front of the rubble of the World Trade Center that said, 'Vote Democrat! We need your help to kill you,'" KFile reports.
She has tweeted, "There is nothing rational about Islam" and "Pedophilia is a Cornerstone of Islam." (In an NBC News interview, she denied making the pedophilia comment.) She has also said Islam, as a worldview, deserves to be rejected just as the ideologies of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were rejected.
Barnette has claimed former President Barack Obama is a Muslim, which he is not. Oz is a Muslim, at least by heritage. "I was raised as a secular Muslim," he wrote in the Washington Examiner in January. His wife, Lisa, is a Christian, and they have brought up their four children as Christians, he added.
While some Republicans are running scared from Barnette, others are urging Trump to switch his endorsement to her. "As the Republican primary in Pennsylvania draws to a close, there is one person who is truly a woman of faith and true America First conservative: Kathy Barnette," Jack Brewer, a former NFL player turned columnist, wrote on right-wing website Townhall.com. He questioned Oz's commitment to the anti-abortion cause, saying Oz had voiced support for abortion rights just a few years ago.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, the only sitting senator who's endorsed Barnette, told CNN the candidate is "extraordinary." She added, "Just because you're a political newcomer doesn't mean we write you off. I think she's got a great story. It's convincing."
Part of Barnette's story is that she was conceived through rape. Her mother suffered the assault at 11 and gave birth at age 12, Barnette has said. Opposition to abortion is a major aspect of her platform.
The U.S. Senate seat representing Pennsylvania is open because Republican Pat Toomey is retiring. In the Democratic primary, John Fetterman, currently lieutenant governor, is polling far ahead of Conor Lamb, now a U.S. House member, and gay candidate Malcolm Kenyatta, currently a state representative.