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Democrats Raise Jan. 6 Insurrection In Governor's Race

Matt Rourke
State Democrats are calling on Lou Barletta to repudiate his endorsement by Rose Tennent, a longtime fixture of conservative media in Pittsburgh who Democrats call a “far right conspiracy theorist” who has “spread wild conspiracy theories about the insurrection.”

As Democrats in Washington, D.C. press their investigation of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, Democrats in Pennsylvania are seeking to keep the issue in the minds of voters closer to home — this week by targeting Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta’s endorsement by a conservative Pittsburgh radio host.

State Democrats are calling on Barletta to repudiate his endorsement by Rose Tennent, a longtime fixture of conservative media in Pittsburgh who Democrats call a “far right conspiracy theorist” who has “spread wild conspiracy theories about the insurrection.”

They point to remarks Tennent made on national media, in which she argued that for those who stormed the Capitol, “This is a battle that is just as important to them as the Revolutionary War,” and that “Democrats and the media are responsible.” And they flag a social media post, made two days after the attack, in which she argued “there was a battle in the heavenlies [sic]” with the result that “Satan now has a stronghold on our Naitons [sic] Capitol.”

“Tennent is an insurrectionist and conspiracy theorist who defended the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol and called Obama ‘the antichrist,’” said party spokesman Brendan Welch in a statement. “Accepting an endorsement from her is a slap in the face to Pennsylvanians, and Barletta should renounce her support immediately.”

A long-time co-host with controversial Pittsburgh talker Jim Quinn, Tennent has become a staple of conservative media and right-wing rallies in her own right.

The Barletta campaign, which called the support of Tennent and 29 other Republicans “an honor and a privilege,” did not respond to a request for comment. Tennent could not be reached for comment. But a look at recent remarks suggests that while neither has backed the storming of the Capitol, they have expressed sympathy for the false beliefs that animated it.

Barletta has called the storming of the Capitol itself “totally unacceptable and un-American.” In an interview with the Times-Leader newspaper, he said the attack on the Capitol was “very disappointing” and “not the way to behave,” and he expressed concern for elected officials and staff “who I’m certain are scared to death.”

Still, he told the Times-Leader, “People feel the election was stolen, and I understand that.”

Barletta himself has cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the vote, falsely insinuating widespread fraud may have taken place. Asked by TV station WTAE in May whether he himself believes Joe Biden was the rightful winner of the presidential election, Barletta answered: “Can anybody really say?”

Tennent also has been sympathetic to the beliefs that animated the insurrection, without supporting its tactics. In an interview this spring with attorney Alan Dershowitz, she made an aside that “I don’t believe anyone should even attempt to go [into] a situation like that into the Capitol. That was crazy.” She then expressed concern that the public had not learned the identity of the Capitol police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, who was involved in the Capitol attack and who Tennent described as “a little wisp of a thing.”

And at a speech before a gathering of Pennsylvania conservatives earlier this year, Tennent’s reflections on January 6 seemed most concerned with its effect on the morale of Trump supporters.

“After Jan. 6th, we saw that being labeled a patriot … calling ourselves a patriot, was something bad. It was wrong to be a patriot,” she said. While she said she wasn’t at the Capitol itself, “When I got back to the hotel that night, people were crying in the lobby, they were crying in the elevator, they were crying in the halls. Because 100,000 people went to D.C. not to rush the Capitol, but to … show their support for the Republic. And the way it was portrayed, the way they were made to feel afterwards, was devastating.”

Barletta has not tied himself to the Capitol insurrection as strongly as his chief Republican primary rival, state Sen. Doug Mastriano. Mastriano was in attendance at the Jan. 6 rally, and he has been a leading voice promoting falsehoods about purported election fraud.

But Barletta has echoed Mastriano’s call for an audit of state election results — an effort that will not overturn the election results but that is sought by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters.

Welch, the Democratic spokesman, allowed that “there’s nobody like Mastriano” when it comes to pushing false narratives about the election.

“But Barletta is chasing after him on a lot of this," Welch said. "Mastriano wants an audit, so he wants one, too.”

It remains to be seen whether the fight over 2020 — and the integrity of elections generally — becomes a key issue in 2022.

Another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Erie state Sen. Dan Laughlin, sought to differentiate himself from others in the field with an opinion column this week casting cold water on fraud allegations. He said it was an “unmistakable truth” that Trump had lost Pennsylvania and questioned the political wisdom of Republicans “trying to pry open voting machines and rummage through already counted ballots while employing statistical tricks to argue that the 2020 election was a fraud.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say the issue is one they must raise.

“It’s extremely important,” said Welch. “We see them trying to push this voter-fraud narrative and assaulting voting rights. They’re deceiving people because they care more about Trump and what will make him happy than what’s important for everyday Pennsylvanians.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.