HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The GOP primary field in Pennsylvania to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey remains wide open, with the hopes of top party officials hanging on the potential entry of a high-profile candidate in a top-tier battleground state contest that could help define the Republican Party’s path forward in 2024.
Former hedge fund CEO David McCormick is the favorite of party leaders and has drawn pledges of financial support from top Republican officials — should he decide to run. Meanwhile, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a hard-right lawmaker who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in last year’s race for governor but lost in a landslide, has said he will announce Thursday night whether he will run for Senate.
McCormick is facing a complicated decision, with Trump seeking the party’s nomination for president. A Mastriano candidacy could further complicate McCormick’s path.
At the very least, it will “force McCormick to go spend millions to defend himself when that money would be better used in a general election or to help other candidates statewide,” said Sam DeMarco, a McCormick ally and chair of the Allegheny County GOP.
For Republicans, Pennsylvania is a top target in their quest to recapture the Senate majority, while Democrats face a difficult Senate map in 2024.
Of 34 seats up for election, Democrats must defend incumbents in red states — Montana, Ohio and West Virginia — and multiple swing states, including Pennsylvania, if they are to hold their 51-seat majority.
The prospect of a Mastriano victory in a primary is prompting handwringing in some GOP circles.
Mastriano has spent the last few months saying that he could win a Senate primary “hands down” and blaming the party establishment for his 15-point loss in November’s election for governor.
But many Republican officials say Mastriano’s subpar political skills, inability to raise money and extreme positions on abortion — among other issues — will guarantee a Casey victory in a state that has long embraced more moderate voices.
Republican hopes for victory may rest on McCormick, who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for Senate in 2022 to Dr. Mehmet Oz.
McCormick has promises of support from party brass, including a super PAC linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
McCormick also has deep pockets and connections across spheres of politics, business and government from which to draw endorsements and campaign contributions — none of which were enough to prevail against Oz, the Trump-backed candidate who went on to lose the general election to Democrat John Fetterman.
If he runs, McCormick may have to share a ticket with Trump, who castigated McCormick in last year’s primary and continues to tell the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
In a book he published in March, McCormick told of an exchange with Trump in which the former president told him that, to win last year’s Senate primary, McCormick would need to say the 2020 election was stolen.
“I made it clear to him that I couldn’t do that. Three days later, Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz,” McCormick wrote.
Trump went on to campaign against McCormick, deriding him at one point as the “candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”
McCormick lost to Oz by fewer than 1,000 votes.
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Marc Levy, The Associated Press