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Senate candidate visits area

Kathy Barnette speaks during a debate with other Republican Party candidates seeking to win the party nomination in the 2022 election for the U.S. Senate in this photo made on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in New Castle, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

As an African-American woman, Kathy Barnette is well aware that she is not the typical Republican candidate.

“I am their worst nightmare,” she said of Democrats.

Barnette, seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pat Toomey, appeared in Lycoming County this week to talk to Republicans about her policies and why she chose to run.

The wide-open race has brought a flurry of Republican and Democratic candidates for the spring primary.

But Barnette feels she has something to bring to the table that her opponents do not.

Toward that end, she’s crisscrossing the state, meeting with the people, learning their concerns, their needs.

“We have been doing this since April,” she said. “We are up to 1,000 miles a week.”

Appearing at a Lycoming County Republican Committee breakfast, she paused from her interview with the Sun-Gazette and said, “I believe I know these people.”

A resident of Montgomery County, she referred to her Republican opponents, such as Dr. Mehmet Oz, as carpetbaggers — people who haven’t lived in the state but are running for the Senate seat.

She pointed out she’s not rich like some of her opponents, including Oz, Carla Sands and former hedge fund manager David McCormick.

Why is she running?

“We have created a vacuum. Some of the worst people with the worst ideas are filling that vacuum,” she said.

Up until a few years ago, running for office was not on Barnette’s mind.

A wife and mother of two, she recalled homeschooling her children in 2019 when the New Way Forward Act was introduced, a piece of legislation targeting immigration reform in part by decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings.

She found the bill unacceptable.

“I thought, we are going to lose our country,” she said.

She’s against passage of the Voting Rights Bill being pushed by Democrats.

“They equate the Voter Rights Bill to Jim Crow Laws; I find that offensive,” she said. “I don’t know one Black person who doesn’t have an I.D.”

A failed run for the 4th Congressional seat in 2020 against incumbent Democrat Madeleine Dean taught her a lot, she said.

“I learned what a Democratic-plus district is,” she said. “I learned the country is worth fighting for.”

Change, she said, comes from the bottom-up, not the top-down.

While campaigning she’s found out what’s on the minds of people, and it’ not always the same issues everywhere she goes.

“If I am in Susquehanna County, they want to talk about fracking,” she said. “If I am in Jefferson County, they want to talk about coal.”

The Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the Capitol, she said, is not foremost on everyone’s mind.

Asked if former President Trump was at least partly responsible for what has often been termed as an insurrection, she said, “I don’t really pay attention to the nuances of that.”

She believes, she said, in the right to assemble.

“I care as much about that as the rioting of 2020,” she said, noting that people were beat up in the streets of cities during that time.

Barnette, a former professor and conservative political commentator, said people are more concerned with the issues of crime and providing for their families.

Other concerns, she said, are the nation’s high inflation and the economy.

She’s against raising the federal minimum wage, which has not been increased in many states including Pennsylvania.

The federal government “manipulating the numbers,” she said, is not the way to improve the economy.

She added that President Biden’s policies are disincentivizing people to work.

In the meantime, people who represent the middle continue to be squeezed.

“We need to create an America for everyone,” she said.

Regarding her party affiliation, Barnette said she certainly considered herself a Democrat early on in her life, but that changed during her college years. Up until then, she simply accepted the party’s policies.

“I grew up,” she said. “I began seeing things differently.”

She said she’s lost some of her Black friends due to her party affiliation. She smiled, acknowledging that much of her extended family remain Democrats.

“We argue, and then we go eat,” she said with a laugh.

Barnette speaks confidently of her Senate run as the primary looms. She pointed to a recent state Republican Party Central Caucus straw poll that placed her second to Jeff Bartos among the five Senate candidates of her party.

“I love my country. I want everyone to do well,” she said.

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