Reporters weren't allowed to see Kathy Barnette at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday. (Photo: Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP, Pa. — For nearly two hours Saturday, members of the media were denied entry to a routine campaign event featuring the GOP front-runners for governor and U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, by a security team who wouldn’t say who had sent them.
“I know my rights,” said a man in a tricorne hat and white knee socks, when pressed for answers about why he was preventing the media from entering.
“We’re just following orders,” another security man said.
The decision to ban reporters from a joint rally for Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate, and Kathy Barnette, the Senate candidate, turned a normal campaign stop at an office-park event space into a protracted confrontation between reporters and the campaigns of two far-right candidates.
The back-and-forth was emblematic of the relationship between the GOP and mainstream media over the last decade — primarily because it was so ridiculous.
The man in the colonial outfit was enforcing the ban in a parking lot with several other men dressed in modern clothing who wouldn’t engage with reporters and who stopped the journalists from getting close to the building where Barnette, Mastriano and Donald Trump’s former legal adviser Jenna Ellis were hosting a pre-election rally. At one point, the police were called. Even guests had to prove they had pre-registered online or couldn’t enter.
Eventually, the security team produced a letter from the owner of The Fuge, “the most unique event space in Bucks County,” explaining the situation.
“This letter states that the security team for Friends of Doug Mastriano has the sole authority to accept or refuse any person entry as they fit onto the grounds of the property. The Fuge is the host venue and will not interfere with the security team in any way,” a member of the security team read aloud.
Later, The Fuge’s owner, Samuel Cravero, came out and spoke with reporters. “I rented a space to a private event, and it’s their decision not to have you in here,” he said.
This guy is blocking press from entering the Mastriano/Barnette rally in Philly. He won’t answer any questions or make eye contact. pic.twitter.com/LTWuHlDMSg
— Colby Itkowitz (@ColbyItkowitz) May 14, 2022
It was a predictable near-end to a primary that produced GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, the country’s most recognizable heart surgeon, who eventually snagged Trump’s endorsement. It also propelled Mastriano, a state senator and a central figure in the effort to overturn the 2020 election, into serious contention for governor. Earlier on Saturday, Trump blasted out a last-minute note of endorsement for Mastriano. “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” Trump wrote.
Mastriano’s campaign has previously barred the media from its events, but the strategy didn’t make much sense this weekend given the positive news of Trump’s endorsement.
Oz, meanwhile, is virtually tied with Barnette, a conservative commentator who began nipping at the heels of Oz and hedge-fund executive Dave McCormick late in the race. Barnette is a wild card: The author of a memoir about being Black and conservative has never held public office, and badly lost a House race in 2020. She has also espoused anti-Muslim and anti-gay views.
Trump’s allies are panicking over Barnette’s surge — and the prospect of another blemish on his endorsement record if Oz loses — calling the situation a “nightmare,” CNN reported. Trump released a statement Thursday saying that Barnette hasn’t been properly “vetted” but left the door open to supporting her in the general election.
“They’re coming out with long knives at this point,” Barnette told an audience in the Philadelphia suburbs. “I had the best day of my life today.”
A few people who spoke to HuffPost before entering the Barnette-Mastriano event said they were turned off by Oz as a candidate, and resonated more with Barnette’s story. In a campaign video and during debates, Barnette has talked about how her mother was raped and gave birth to her at age 12, a story that she’s used to resonate with GOP voters on opposing abortion.
“With Oz, it’s just a matter of double speak, on things like Second Amendment and red flag laws,” said Nick, a 30-year-old IT worker from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. “I appreciate Barnette’s story.”
Neither Barnette nor Mastriano ever addressed reporters outside, but Barnette’s face glowed on a van’s electronic billboard in the parking lot, along with the slogan: “I AM YOU!”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.