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A once unlikely duo could top the Pennsylvania GOP ticket in November

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Kathy Barnette speaks during a forum in Newtown, Pa., on May 11, 2022.
Kathy Barnette speaks during a forum in Newtown, Pa., on May 11, 2022.Matt Rourke / AP

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Thursday ... Finland’s leaders announce their intention of joining NATO. ... President Biden releases a statement marking 1 million American lives lost to Covid. ... Biden welcomes leaders of Southeast Asian countries to the White House. ... Senate Republicans (along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.) block a Democratic abortion bill. ... Early-vote numbers spike in Georgia. ... And Conor Lamb and Malcolm Kenyatta push back on John Fetterman’s frontrunner status in Pennsylvania Senate.

But first: Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette and state Sen. Doug Mastriano are moving up in the polls, and both are suddenly in the conversation of being the GOP’s nominees, respectively, for Senate and governor in Battleground Pennsylvania. 

Both come from their party’s right flank and have promoted lies about the 2020 election.  

Here’s Barnette:

Per Inside Elections Jacob Rubashkin, she has a long history of anti-Muslin comments on social media, including calling Barack Obama a Muslim — manymany times. 

She’s gone to great lengths to dispute the 2020 presidential election results, including appearing on a podcast where MyPillow’s Mike Lindell introduced her: “We have seen time and time again very credible allegations that something strangely happened on Nov. 3, and I believe every American has the right to be heard,” she said. 

And she said she organized buses for the pro-Trump DC rally on Jan. 6. “On Jan. 6, my team and I, we are taking two buses down to D.C., we are looking at a third bus … to the rest of you, and to those of you who are going to Jan. 6, do not grow weary.”

Here’s Mastriano:  

At a rally on Saturday, Mastriano boasted that his administration — if he wins — would be more conservative than Ron DeSantis’ in Florida, NBC’s Allan Smith and Henry Gomez write

“You guys think Ron DeSantis is good? Amateur,” Mastriano said, adding: “We love you, Ron, but this is Pennsylvania. This is where the light of liberty was set in 1776, where this nation was born.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 239 percent

 That’s the increase in early voting in Georgia’s May 24 primaries through Tuesday compared to the 2018 midterms, NBC News’ Charlie Gile reports. 

Early voting at this point is also up 160 percent from 2020 — 254,556 people had voted early through Tuesday, compared to 90,393 in 2020 and 69,263 in 2018, per to the Secretary of State’s office. 

The massive spike comes amid a number of fiercely competitive races in the state, including the GOP gubernatorial primary between Gov. Brian Kemp and former Sen. David Perdue; the GOP primary for Secretary of State between incumbent Brad Raffensperger and Rep. Jody Hice; and a member-on-member primary between Democratic Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux. 

Other numbers you need to know today: 

51: The number of senators who opposed advancing a bill to codify abortion rights, which included every Republican senator and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. 

$53 million: That’s how much money the National Republican Senatorial Committee is reserving through Election Day in seven battleground states, per Politico.  

107,600: How many people the CDC estimates died from drug overdoses last year, the highest since it started counting. 

$997 million: The amount the families of the victims of the Surfside condo collapse will receive in a settlement

$375 million: The sale price for Trump’s D.C. hotel. 

Midterm roundup: Pennsylvania pushback

We wrote yesterday about how Lt. Gov John Fetterman appears more and more like the clear frontrunner in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. But on yesterday’s “Meet the Press Daily,” his two rivals, Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta had something to say about that. 

Lamb argued that he, not Fetterman, is the one who has experience winning over swing voters in a marquee election. And Kenyatta argued that if Democrats ‘want to change the Senate,” they need to think outside the box

But the question voters will answer on Tuesday is how much those messages can cut against the perceived inevitability of a Fetterman victory. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Senate: Republican Senate hopeful Blake Masters brushed aside the gender pay gap as a “left-wing narrative” in a February video, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reports. 

Pennsylvania Senate: McClatchy dives into Republican Kathy Barnette’s rise with just days to go before primary day. 

Wisconsin Senate: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are out with a new ad that blames Democrats for “the worst crime wave in decades.” 

Oregon Governor: Conservative writer Bridget Barton is running a new ad that accuses former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan of not being conservative enough on abortion. 

Illinois-15: Republican Rep. Rodney Davis, who is in a member-on-member primary against Rep. Mary Miller, features a Vietnam veteran in a new ad attacking Miller for voting against the Defense authorization. Miller said last year she voted against that bill out of retribution for the Afghanistan withdrawal as well as the military’s Covid vaccine mandate. 

North Carolina-11: The outside group Results for NC has two new ads slamming GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, one painting him as an untrustworthy “playboy politician,” and another featuring a veteran who’s backing state Sep. Chuck Edwards in the primary. The group is the largest spender in the race so far, dropping $739,000 on ads, per AdImpact. 

Oregon-06: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is endorsing state Rep. Andrea Salinas’s House bid in a race that’s gotten outsized attention, thanks to a massive investment by the House Majority PAC for one of Salinas’ opponents. 

Texas-28: Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s new ad totals up how much federal aid he’s brought to the district’s first responders, hospitals, schools and infrastructure projects to argue he’s delivered for the district. And an outside group called “Mainstream Democrats” has a new ad saying Cuellar opposes banning abortion, citing an AP story where Cuellar, who has a record of opposing expanding access to abortion, says there should be exceptions rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Ad watch: “A race, not a game”

Navy veteran Latham Saddler is out with his first ads in the Georgia GOP Senate primary, attacking frontrunner Herschel Walker. 

In the ad, Saddler says, “Serious times require serious leaders, not celebrities. Herschel Walker was my childhood sports hero. But this race is not a game.” Walker, a Georgia State football legend, is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. 

Walker and Saddler are two of six candidates running for the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, in November. 

With this ad, Saddler has so far spent $426,000 on the airwaves. Walker has spent over $2.2 million on ads so far, but neither Republican candidate’s spending compares to the whopping $12.2 million Warnock has spent so far on ads, according to AdImpact

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world  

Trump allies say there are more losses to come for the former president as primary season rolls on. 

A state judge said he will block Florida’s new congressional map.

Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron announced he is running for Kentucky governor next year.