In what may be the closest statewide primary in Pennsylvania since the 1960s, Mehmet Oz has managed to eke out a victory over Dave McCormick by just 902 votes as of 2 p.m. Wednesday as the state prepares for an automatic recount.
Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the razor-thin margin will trigger an automatic recount under the state's election laws and that process will begin across 67 counties as early as Friday.
Chapman said she would issue the official order for the recount by 5 p.m. Thursday and that all counties must begin recounting no later than June 1.
County election workers will then need to complete their recounts by noon on June 7, with an official total expected to be announced the following day.
Oz took 419,365 votes to McCormick's 418,463 votes after all preliminary results were returned before Wednesday's press conference.
The preliminary election results in the GOP race for the Senate comes a week after polls closed last Tuesday night, which saw the Democratic race quickly go to John Fetterman just an hour later with a 32-point lead over his closest challenger, U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb.
In addition to the recount, McCormick has petitioned the state Supreme Court to order about 60 counties across Pennsylvania to promptly count mail-in ballots that were missing a handwritten date on return envelopes.
Also included in a Commonwealth Court filing this week, McCormick's campaign is asking the courts to require counties to obey a brand-new federal appeals court decision stemming from a similar issue in Lehigh County during the 2021 municipal election.
There are hundreds — if not thousands — of such ballots sitting in county offices across the state, as McCormick scrapes for enough votes to overtake Oz. The justices ordered counties to respond by 4 p.m. Thursday.
Casey Contres, Oz's campaign manager, issued a statement earlier this week that the projected winner in the early results would fight any attempt by McCormick to force counties "accept legally rejected ballots."
"Unfortunately, the McCormick legal team is following the Democrats' playbook, a tactic that could have long-term harmful consequences for elections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Contres said.
Both Oz and McCormick reportedly began hiring legal experts in preparation for the recount late Friday, and McCormick didn't seem to be ready to concede the race in a Twitter post on Tuesday night.
"We are proud our campaign received nearly 418,000 votes, won 37 of 67 counties, and contributed to a historic turnout with a razor thin difference between myself and Mehmet Oz. This narrow difference triggers an automatic recount, and we look forward to a swift resolution so our party can defeat socialist John Fetterman in the fall," McCormick said.
PA Senate Primary:Fetterman wins U.S. Senate Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania
PA 2022 primary coverage:Oz still has slight lead over McCormick in US Senate race
The state election code requires the Secretary of State to order all of the county boards of elections to conduct a recount if a candidate in a statewide election was defeated by one-half of one percent or less of the votes cast for the office.
The order for a recount would need to be issued by 5 p.m. of the second Thursday after the election. In this case, it would be by 5 p.m. on May 26.
That applies unless it is waived by all the defeated candidates, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Both campaigns have hired Washington-based lawyers to lead their recount efforts, and both have hired Philadelphia-based campaign strategists who helped lead the operation to observe vote-counting on Election Day for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020.
With about 1.34 million votes cast so far, the two frontrunners would have needed to put at least several thousand votes between them to avoid a recount.
The recount provision, enacted under Act 97 of 2004, has been triggered six times, with three recounts carried out, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State said. All three recounts yielded the same result.
During a recount, the board of elections would need to use a different method to tabulate the results. It could be by hand or using a different mechanical or electronic device.
This race might be the closest statewide primary in Pennsylvania in nearly 60 years, according to veteran political analyst Terry Madonna.
“Another close Pennsylvania one: in 1964 Genevieve Blatt defeated Michael Musmanno in the Democratic primary by around 500 votes. She lost the general election to Senator Hugh Scott,” Madonna posted to his Twitter account Wednesday morning.
Madonna added in an interview Wednesday that a recount at this point would have a June 7 deadline, which would mean weeks more of waiting for a Republican nominee for the Senate seat if a recount occurs.
The losing challenger also has the option to refuse an automatic recount, Madonna added.
The Senate primary results have been a roller coaster ride for both Oz and McCormick, who initially came out ahead of Oz when the count began at 8 Tuesday night.
In a late push, Oz pulled to about 5,000 votes of McCormick later into the evening. McCormick had led the GOP Senate race since the polls closed. But about 18 counties were still reporting zero mail-in ballots at about 11:29 Tuesday night.
Political strategist Sam Chen, a founder of Allentown-based The Liddle Group, said McCormick's lead late into to Tuesday night was probably due to Kathy Barnette's recent meteoric rise in popularity.
Voters who would have otherwise hesitantly voted for Oz over McCormick suddenly had a third option. Barnette pulled ahead of McCormick in polls leading up to the election. Donald Trump's endorsement only seemed to "stabilize" Oz's chances in the primary rather than solidifying a victory as it has done in other races.
Collectively, all of those forces have helped make an already close race even tighter.
Oz and McCormick addressed their supporters at their respective primary night parties just before midnight, each seeming optimistic of a win by the morning.
At his campaign event in Newtown, Mehmet Oz told supporters, "We are not going to have a result tonight. When all the votes are tallied, I'm confident we will win. We are making a ferocious charge. But when it's this close, what do you expect? Everything about this campaign has been tight."
McCormick, speaking to a crowd of supporters in Pittsburgh, said, "There’s been a huge outpouring of support. We knew it. We felt it on the ground. We knew it was working. We knew our message to take back this country - we knew our message was resonating with the voters of Pennsylvania and they showed it today and we are so incredibly grateful.
The count slogged on Wednesday, however, as results continued to trickle in and the margin between shrinking and expanding throughout the day.
The delayed results in the Republican primary also renewed scrutiny over the counting of mail-in ballots this week as well.
Trump blasted the state’s elections procedures on social media Wednesday even though there are no indications of any wrongdoing with those ballots other than a printing error that was slowing the tally in Lancaster County. He has relentlessly criticized the state’s voting procedures since his loss in Pennsylvania two years ago, when it took several days to tally the results from all mailed ballots.
The head of the state association of county commissioners, the local officials who oversee the nuts-and-bolts of Pennsylvania voting, described Tuesday’s primary as “a very smooth election day” but acknowledged that the state’s 2019 law expanding the use of mailed ballots could be improved.
PA GOP Sen. Candidates April Debates:The PA Republican US Senate candidates debated twice this week: Here's what we learned
Barnette gains traction near primary:On the PA campaign trail: Trump crowd gives Oz lukewarm reception; Barnette gaining traction
The coronavirus pandemic that came to the commonwealth in March 2020 led to an unprecedented popularity for the new no-excuse mail-in ballot option provided for in the 2019 law, Act 77.
Until 2019, Pennsylvania allowed only limited voting using mailed ballots. Voters could receive an absentee ballot only if they could show a medical problem, planned travel or some other complication that would prevent them from voting in-person on Election Day.
A legislative deal that year put an end to straight-ticket voting, a priority of Republicans, in exchange for allowing anyone to request a ballot in the mail, a change sought by Democrats.
Election results across the state have faced long delays in almost every race since the June 2020 primary, a problem many county election officials have pleaded with the state to allow more time to prepare ballots for counting before election day.
As it stands, election workers are only allowed to begin opening mail-in ballot envelopes and prepare them for counting when polls open. Often receiving tens of thousands of ballots, preparing the envelopes for tallying, a process known as precanvassing, can be a difficult task to complete in just 13 hours.
Despite both parties generally agreeing that the law should be changed to give election workers days to precanvass mail ballots, disagreements between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf have helped lead to a stalemate on Act 77 reform thus far.
Early Thursday morning, CNN reported Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, and encouraged Oz to declare victory in Pennsylvania as votes were still being counted.
CNN reported that Trump began casting aspersions on Pennsylvania's election process and repeating similar unfounded accusations of voter fraud as he did when he lost the state to President Joe Biden in 2020.
"Dr. Oz should declare victory," Trump wrote on the platform he helped create after his ban from Twitter shortly after the Jan. 6 attacks.
Trump had endorsed Oz weeks earlier for the GOP nomination in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, but Trump's bump of support wasn't quite the boon for Oz as it was for other candidates with the former president's backing.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Oz wins PA Republican Senate Primary; recount coming