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Pa. GOP Senate primary is close despite Trump endorsing Dr. Oz

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pennsylvania is one of five states holding primaries tomorrow, and the Senate race there has a lot of last-minute surprises. On the Democratic side, the leading candidate, John Fetterman, announced that he suffered a stroke while campaigning on Friday. He's the current lieutenant governor. Doctors say he suffered no cognitive damage. Fetterman and his wife Gisele released a short video from the hospital.

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JOHN FETTERMAN: It was on Friday. I just wasn't feeling very well. So I decided, you know what? I need to get checked out. So I went to the hospital.

GISELE FETTERMAN: I made you get checked out...

FETTERMAN: Yeah.

FETTERMAN: ...Because I was right, as always.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, the Republican Senate contest has suddenly become a very close three-person race. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The late surprise in Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate primary is the sudden rise in polls by TV commentator Kathy Barnette. In recent weeks, as abortion has dominated news coverage, Barnette's own personal story has gained attention. Her mother gave birth after being raped at age 11. This is from a Barnette campaign video.

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KATHY BARNETTE: Aborting me would not have eased the trauma that my mother suffered. Aborting me would not have allowed me to be in a place today where I can now take care of my mother.

GONYEA: Barnette's understaffed campaign has struggled to manage the rise in attention - opponents have responded with negative ads, old social media posts have resurfaced, a number of homophobic and Islamophobic statements, even criticism of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Trump has issued a statement saying flatly that Barnette can't win in November. And over the weekend, Barnette blocked media organizations, including NPR, from covering her campaign events.

One of her main rivals is former hedge fund CEO and George W. Bush administration official Dave McCormick.

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DAVE MCCORMICK: Thank you all so much.

GONYEA: This was Sunday afternoon at a restaurant in Franklin, Pa. McCormick, too, is talking a lot about abortion these days.

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MCCORMICK: And if the Supreme Court memo that was leaked becomes the Supreme Court's ruling, I believe that'll be a great step forward for protecting innocent life. But I also think it'll take those decisions and place them back where they belong - with the states and the voters.

GONYEA: Now to the candidate endorsed by Trump - Mehmet Oz. He leads in polls, but just barely. Oz's campaign relies on his celebrity and big-name backers. Yesterday, it was a tele-town hall with gun rights activist and rock musician Ted Nugent, who laid out Oz's task in Washington.

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TED NUGENT: Clean up this horrible treachery that we find ourselves in in 2022 because of horrible, treacherous people that are abusing their power and violating the constitutional law. So Godspeed, my friend.

GONYEA: Oz responded.

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MEHMET OZ: I'm voting for you, Ted. I'm voting for you.

GONYEA: Later on the call, Oz said Trump endorsed him because he'll win.

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OZ: And he's laser-focused on winners, people who will actually win Republican seats in the Senate and hold those seats for our party so that we can actually make the decisions that will help our country.

GONYEA: Even with Trump backing Oz, more than a month ago, a large percentage of GOP voters haven't yet made up their mind in the Senate contest. They've got one day to do so.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.