PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday September 22nd, 2022.
You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you’ve joined us today. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. first time on The world and everything in it: midterm elections.
Kathy Barnette was a relative newcomer to the Pennsylvania political scene until this spring. In the final days of her primary campaign in the US Senate, she shot into the national spotlight.
BUTLER: Barnette lost that race to Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz is now up against Democrat John Fetterman for the Senate seat. But Barnette got a glimpse of one of the most talked about Senate races this year. She recently sat down with WORLD Washington reporter Carolina Lumetta to share what she’s learned.
CAROLINA LUMETTA, REPORTER: Kathy Barnette said she never intended to run for political office. She recalled growing up in extreme poverty in Alabama, graduating first in her family, serving in the US Army and National Guard Reserves, and homeschooling her children for a number of years. She was a political commentator and has published a book about being a black conservative. Today, she serves as the spokesperson for the 1776 Action Committee while driving her two high school students to gym classes and tending to the family’s chocolate lab. It’s a very different schedule from when she was criss-crossing Pennsylvania just months earlier, campaigning to become the state’s first black senator.
BARNETTE: I’m a black woman married to a black man raising black babies and I’m very different when I compare how I grew up and was really in dire straits compared to how my own children are growing up. Again, I can’t remember anyone ever looking at me and saying, Kathy, you’re black, you’re a woman. You are poor. All odds are against you. You might as well hang it up, right? I grew up understanding and my family spoke out about the reality of slavery. I mean, my great-great-great-grandmother was a slave and I used to listen to the news every night with my grandmother and grandparents, just a kind of attention. And I’ve always felt inclined to just hear it. So I’ve always had a sort of tendency to be interested in the world around me and how politics shaped that world…
Barnette grew up watching documentaries about how black people were shunned from voting. She recalled excitedly waiting in line to vote at the age of 18, armed with research on all the candidates. She then voted the straight-ticket Democrat. But over the next few years, Barnette said she realized that the conservative, Christian values she grew up with weren’t reflected in the party everyone assumed she should belong to.
BARNETTE: I was born into the Democratic Party just like I was born into brown skin. Nobody ever talked about it and nobody ever talked about it, you know which party you’re going to vote for. It was exactly what you did. And even though I was so excited to finally vote and so excited to be an American at this civic opportunity and I read about the people running. And yet I went right in and voted straight for Democrat. But now I was on the cusp of this truly new realization of understanding what my values are and determined to choose those things responsibly. And of course I found that to be stronger within the Republican Party than within the Democratic Party.
Barnette learned even more about the Grand ‘Ole Party as she began campaigning, first in 2020 for the US House of Representatives and then in 2022 for the US Senate.
BARNETTE: I would often tell people that no one is coming to save you, right? No one is coming to save us, especially in the two years we’ve lived here in Pennsylvania where Tom Wolf, the governor, closed businesses, closed schools, forced people to take jobs whether they wanted to or not Not. And many Republicans, looking at the Republican Party, say, “Hi, we voted for you to stand up for us and haven’t seen anyone really come forward in a meaningful way.
In the final weeks of her campaign, media sources often called Barnette an “Ultra MAGA” contestant, which she confirmed. I asked her at the time why Trump, the founder of the MAGA movement, didn’t support her.
BARNETTE: I think there’s an awakening of people who realize that, you know, for all the good that Trump has done, and he’s done a tremendous amount of good, I’m never going to give that up. I have nothing critical to say about the policies he implemented during his tenure. I agreed with everyone. And yet he has enormous influence. My hope is that he matures and recognizes this influence and uses it wisely. I don’t think he used that influence wisely in all cases to provide critical endorsements across our country. I hope he protects that voice and influence because it doesn’t come naturally. It cannot be taken for granted that he is not our savior. We have never been guided by his values. To me, ultra-maga means gas is $1.89 a gallon. For me Ultra Maga means a safe border, that we know who is coming to our country, we know where they are going, how they are going to take care of themselves, whether they even like us or not. Ultra Maga means my kids can go to school without anyone telling them they are a victim because of the color of their skin.
Barnette told me that her beliefs motivate her political activity.
BARNETTE: I believe God has a role to play for America. And I do all of that. Hence my hope in the first place that I don’t believe this is the end of this great experiment. I heard some of our political leaders say America is an idea. America is not just an idea, America has a border. It has some, it’s location, look at the map. There it is. And it has these, I’ve mentioned it a few times, traditional American values that have made us strong. And so I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say: I believe our strength lies in our diversity and our openness. And I don’t believe in Christian nationalism. But at the same time, I believe that there are some traditional American values that we should hold on to and preserve, and that those things are right and we should fight for them.
I’m Carolina Lumetta, reporting for WORLD.
BROWN: For a longer version of this interview, see Carolina’s coverage in her weekly newsletter, The Stew. Visit wng.org/newsletters to sign up.
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