Barnette, 49, is a political outsider like President Donald Trump, and a candidate in his mold. Before she launched her congressional bid—her first entry into politics—she appeared as a commentator on “Fox & Friends” and on local conservative radio. In February, she published a book making the case that Trump has been the greatest president for Black America since Abraham Lincoln (an argument Trump has made himself). During a summer of protest across the country, she at times echoed the president’s rhetoric, telling supporters at a campaign office launch party in July that “your freedom is in peril” and referring to racial justice protesters as “thugs and mobs that shut down the conversation.”
In one sense, Barnette, who faces freshman incumbent Democrat Madeleine Dean, represents precisely the kind of diversity the Republican Party lacks—and has said it wants more of. The GOP has fielded a record number of female congressional candidates this election cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, but only 10 of the Republican nominees this fall are Black women, including Barnette. Just one other Black female Republican has held a seat in the House—ever. “[A]s an African-American female, [she’s brought] an important perspective to the PAGOP,” the chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Lawrence Tabas, said in a statement.
Yet, at a time when suburbs increasingly are turning blue, Barnette’s long-shot campaign also speaks to a big challenge for the GOP’s efforts to diversify: In 2020, its female congressional candidates are concentrated in harder-to-win suburban districts where Trump’s approval rating is slumping.