Anyone who watched the Kentucky Derby this year was treated to a thrilling race in which the horse with the worst odds — at 80-1 — surged from behind during the last stretch, passing the two frontrunners that had been dominant since the start. No one was paying attention to Rich Strike, way in the back. And no one — not even his owners — saw it coming.

This exact scenario — except with people, not horses — is playing out in Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, where underdog Kathy Barnette’s odds had been, for a long...

Anyone who watched the Kentucky Derby this year was treated to a thrilling race in which the horse with the worst odds — at 80-1 — surged from behind during the last stretch, passing the two frontrunners that had been dominant since the start. No one was paying attention to Rich Strike, way in the back. And no one — not even his owners — saw it coming.

This exact scenario — except with people, not horses — is playing out in Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, where underdog Kathy Barnette’s odds had been, for a long time, 358-1 (the margin by which her campaign has been outspent). Barnette is now neck-and-neck with the other top contenders, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick. One Pennsylvania Republican strategist has called the race “a dead heat.”

Barnette is a tell-it-like-it-is black woman whom the mainstream media is labeling “ultra MAGA.” The situation is interesting: Barnette embraces the same Trumpian policies her challengers also support. They’re all vying to out-Trump one another, in a land that, as I’ve written previously, views the Biden administration as a sort of clownish, dull halftime show.

But Trump has not backed Barnette; he endorsed Oz, a move that caused further-right conservatives, who are typically staunch Trump supporters, to disagree with 45. When Trump made the announcement, county Republican Party headquarters were reportedly inundated with calls from disgruntled voters asking, “What the hell was he thinking?”

Politico reported right after the endorsement shook the state GOP that:

Landing Donald Trump’s endorsement has given Dr. Mehmet Oz a bump in the polls.

But it hasn’t erased doubts about his conservative bona fides. Or quelled concerns about his past positions on abortion. Or buried his closest rival. In short, the endorsement hasn’t transformed Pennsylvania’s closely watched GOP Senate primary.

So far, Trump’s endorsements have either been calculated bets carefully made to ensure he rarely lands a loser, or rallying cries to thousands of voters who really do whatever Trump says.

It’s likely a mix of both. It was only days ago that Trump’s 55-0 winning streak ended with the Nebraska governor’s race. Now, “the Trump effect” may not be working its magic in Pennsylvania, either, as conservatives who would typically defend Trump to the hilt are now admitting, as Gary Smith, chair for the Constitutional Republicans of Western Pennsylvania in Jefferson County, told CNN, “As much as people support Trump, hey, he ain’t God.”

Barnette, from what I’ve seen, makes use of the same plain-spoken rhetoric that caused voters outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to back Trump in 2016 and beyond. She’s not a multi-millionaire like Oz and McCormick. Nor is she a Hollywood elitist, like Oz. Or a polished, establishment ice queen, like Carla Sands, US ambassador to Denmark during the Trump administration, who has the appeal of an angry Jane Fonda.

Barnette, though, checks a lot of boxes. She’s a political “outsider,” having never held office before. During a recent debate, while the candidates were lauding their pro-life credentials, Barnette revealed that she herself was the byproduct of a rape. She noted to the amusement of the audience that she is black and has been “black my whole life. Fact check it!” And when Sands claimed she had the highest support from the black community of any of the candidates, Barnette couldn’t stop snickering. This evidently enraged Sands: she became visibly rattled and had to take deep breaths to maintain her composure.

A black, female political outsider is a triple-threat, and just the candidate the GOP needs in this race, which will play a critical role in deciding which party will control the Senate come November. Barnette has earned endorsements from the Susan B. Anthony List, CatholicVote, and the Club for Growth. And while you might think Republicans would be rallying around Barnette, and the liberal media slightly more reserved about criticizing a woman of color, both sides are launching desperate attacks ahead of this Tuesday’s big election.

The worst dirt I’ve seen Barnette’s opponents dig up is a 2015 tweet in which she criticized then-candidate Trump’s performance in a debate. Rivals have even resorted to labeling Barnette “crazy Kathy” in an attack ad that even CNBC struggled to legitimize:

[The ad] features footage of Barnette talking about racism, including clips that appear to show her discussing “systemic racism” “particularly among police officers.” The video suggests she supported Black Lives Matter. The footage appears to be edited and it’s unclear whether she made the statements as complete thoughts or offered other context.

Esquire magazine simply dismisses Barnette’s unlikely rise to rural Republicans (that’s me!) being “nutty”:

Barnette seems to have tapped into the true spirit of hardcore Trumpism that lives in the imaginary, but very real, state of Pennsyltucky. You don’t do that unless, at some time, in some important context, you’ve proven yourself to be nutty as a fox squirrel.

It’s telling, though, that Trump himself, ever eager to be associated with winners, has repeated his endorsement of Oz, while being careful not to dismiss Barnette outright. Trump said in a statement:

Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats. She has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted, but if she is able to do so, she will have a wonderful future in the Republican Party — and I will be behind her all the way.

It’s also telling that the left seems to be working with the establishment GOP to take down Barnette. It’s likely they see Barnette — who would be the first black senator from Pennsylvania — as the biggest threat to Democratic shoe-in John Fetterman, who once chased an unarmed black man with a shotgun and refuses to apologize for it.

I may just be a “nutty” little fox squirrel, but then again, most Pennsylvania Republicans may be of the same species. We’ll find out on May 18.