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 do know my rights,” said a person in a tricorne hat and white knee socks, when pressed for answers about why he was stopping the media from entering.
“We’re just following orders,” one other security man said.
The choice to ban reporters from a joint rally for Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate, and Kathy Barnette, the Senate candidate, turned a standard campaign stop at an office-park event space right into a protracted confrontation between reporters and the campaigns of two far-right candidates.
The back-and-forth was emblematic of the connection between the GOP and mainstream media over the past decade — primarily since it was so ridiculous.
The person within the colonial outfit was enforcing the ban in a car parking zone with several other men wearing modern clothing who wouldn’t engage with reporters and who stopped the journalists from getting near the constructing where Barnette, Mastriano and Trump’s former legal adviser Jenna Ellis were hosting a pre-election rally. At one point, the police were called. Even guests needed to prove that they had pre-registered online or couldn’t enter.
Eventually, the safety team produced a letter from the owner of The Fuge, “probably the most unique event space in Bucks County,” explaining the situation.
“This letter states that the safety team for Friends of Doug Mastriano has the only real authority to just accept or refuse any person entry as they fit onto the grounds of the property. The Fuge is the host venue and is not going to interfere with the safety team in any way,” a member of the safety team read aloud.
Later, The Fuge’s owner, Samuel Cravero, got here out and spoke with reporters. “I rented an area to a non-public event, and it’s their decision to not have you ever in here,” he said.
This guy is obstructing 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 trouble 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 isn’t a 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, however 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 on the heels of Oz and hedge-fund executive Dave McCormick late within the race. Barnette is a wild card: The creator 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 one other blemish on his endorsement record if Oz loses — calling the situation a “nightmare,” CNN reported. Trump released a press release Thursday saying that Barnette hasn’t been properly “vetted” but left the door open to supporting her in the overall election.
“They’re coming out with long knives at this point,” Barnette told an audience within the Philadelphia suburbs. “I had the most effective day of my life today.”
A couple of individuals 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 through 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 only a matter of double speak, on things like Second Amendment and red flag laws,” said Nick, a 30-year-old IT employee 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 within the car parking zone, together with the slogan: “I AM YOU!”