Pennsylvania Republicans Quietly Plot Their Revenge After 2022 Wipeout

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

The last election couldn’t have gone any worse for Pennsylvania Republicans: the top of their ticket—Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano—wiped out spectacularly, casting this swing state in a definitively blue hue.

After months of soul-searching over their disappointing outcomes, Keystone State Republicans are convinced they simply had the wrong candidates—and believe they can get revenge if they just put forward the right one.

When it comes to the crucial race for Senate in 2024, many Republicans in Pennsylvania and Washington believe the search is already over. They are already homing in on David McCormick, the immensely wealthy hedge fund baron who ran in 2022, as their silver bullet.

Last year, McCormick may have lost to Oz in the GOP primary, ultimately by fewer than 1,000 votes. But some Republicans insist he’d be in the Senate today if things had gone slightly differently in that election.

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John Brabender, a veteran GOP strategist in Pennsylvania, said if McCormick had been the nominee instead of Oz, “he probably would have won” against now-Sen. John Fetterman (D), who bludgeoned Oz with relentless attacks over his weak ties to Pennsylvania and dubious record as a TV doctor.

Ahead of 2024, McCormick hasn’t formally announced whether or not he will run against Sen. Bob Casey (D). An aide did not return a request for comment.

But McCormick is surely behaving like an incoming candidate. This year, he is set to release a book that claims to outline “a battle plan to renew America.” He’s remained an active attendee of high-profile political events, including recently attending the swearing-in party for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Trump White House spokeswoman turned freshly inaugurated governor of Arkansas.

Perhaps most important, McCormick kept the door open for a future run in a speech conceding the 2022 GOP primary to Oz following a recount. “I’m not going anywhere. This is my home. This is our home. This is where my dreams were launched, and this is where we plan to have a future,” he said at the time.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Dave McCormick speaks during a rally at Bloomsburg Area High School on May 16, 2022, in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Michael M. Santiago/Getty</div>

Dave McCormick speaks during a rally at Bloomsburg Area High School on May 16, 2022, in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty

When it comes to their battle to win back the Senate majority in 2024, Republicans in Pennsylvania and beyond are aware they can’t be dogged by the same issues of “candidate quality” that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) himself admitted sank the GOP’s chances for the majority in 2022.

Controversial candidates who came out of crowded primaries and brought their baggage with them cost Republicans their best chances to win Senate seats—not only Oz in Pennsylvania, but Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona, and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire.

Next year, a win in Pennsylvania would bring the GOP one essential step closer to winning back the Senate. And a strong Senate performance could be a buoy for the GOP presidential nominee, whoever that may be, in all-important Pennsylvania.

Within the GOP campaign class, the pining for McCormick represents the dramatic course correction they would like to see in 2024.

Though he sought former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in his last run, McCormick built a more moderate-seeming, business-friendly brand and garners high name recognition in the state, where he grew up but had not lived for much of the past decade.

Crucially, the former CEO of the mega-hedge fund Bridgewater has a ton of money, and he’s willing to spend it on his own political ambitions. According to OpenSecrets, he was the fifth most self-funded candidate of the 2022 cycle, having spent more than $14 million of his own money in the primary.

Not only that, McCormick has rich friends, too, and they’re also willing to help: fellow hedge funders and financiers poured $15 million into a PAC backing McCormick in 2022, according to OpenSecrets.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Chuck Todd speaks with Dave McCormick after touring the Lackawanna Petroleum and Gas College on May 10, 2022, in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Michael M. Santiago/Getty</div>

Chuck Todd speaks with Dave McCormick after touring the Lackawanna Petroleum and Gas College on May 10, 2022, in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty

Democrats argue those sort of characteristics leave him vulnerable to some of the same pitfalls that tanked Oz’s Senate bid last cycle—being rich and arguably out of touch with low-or-middle income Americans. But to those working on picking the right horse for the 2024 race, McCormick checks their boxes.

“David McCormick would be an incredibly strong recruit and would put Pennsylvania squarely on the map of competitive races in 2024,” said one national Republican strategist. “His profile as a veteran, along with his ability to raise substantial funds as well as self-fund makes him a dream candidate.”

GOP strategists say an essential part of the emerging strategy in Pennsylvania has to be closing in on a leading primary candidate early—whether it’s McCormick or someone else—and avoiding the sort of raucous divides that riddled the last Republican contest.

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Not only does the party risk candidates facing damaging attacks during an extended internal battle, such primaries can often vault nominees from the fringe into the general election. That’s what happened in 2022, when Mastriano—a state senator with little political acumen from the furthest wing of the MAGA movement—won the nomination for governor.

“There was a lesson learned,” said Brabender. “And the lesson is that we can’t let a lot of candidates run hoping that the best one will be stronger from that process, when it’s also possible that somebody who simply has a very devoted small following when, when there’s so many candidates, and then become a horrific general election candidate.”

“I think that’s a lesson,” he continued. “I think it was learned by every spectrum of the Republican Party.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Donald Trump shakes hands with David McCormick in 2016.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Drew Angerer/Getty</div>

Donald Trump shakes hands with David McCormick in 2016.

Drew Angerer/Getty

While McCormick is the establishment favorite, there’s no guarantee he would clear a field, or that outsiders will go along with the controlled-primary play.

After troubling losses, political parties at the state and federal levels will often conduct post-mortems and assure voters they’ve found the remedy for the next election. But that doesn’t mean their base is going to go along with the play—and Pennsylvania Republicans are no different.

GOP brass may think McCormick is their best shot, but he was not the clear favorite of the most MAGA elements of the party base in 2022. That was Kathy Barnette, a far-right political figure and pundit who placed third in the Senate primary—but earned nearly 25 percent of the vote, not far behind Oz and McCormick.

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Barnette could run again, though she did not respond to a request for comment on her plans for 2024. Neither did a spokesperson for Oz, who has kept a low profile since his defeat.

The Daily Beast also reached out to a spokesperson for Mastriano to ask if he’d be interested in a 2024 run for Senate. Mastriano regularly refused to engage with the press during his gubernatorial run, so characteristically, he also did not respond.

Other wild-card candidates could certainly hop in and derail McCormick’s potential ascent to the nomination. There are eight Republicans in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, for instance, who could be eyeing a jump to the upper chamber.

While Barnette and Oz haven’t given an indication they’re interested in a 2024 run, Mastriano, to some degree, has: last month, he retweeted a poll showing him in a potential matchup against Casey, leading the senator by more than 4 points. Problematically for Mastriano, the survey reportedly was conducted during dates that hadn’t yet occurred when Mastriano shared it, making the data an almost certain spoof. It’s unclear if Mastriano knows it wasn’t real.

But Mastriano is the type of wild card who could send Pennsylvania Republicans into full-on crisis mode. Brabender told The Daily Beast if Mastriano were to run, “there would be a collective intervention.”

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There are, of course, larger motivations for Republicans to be especially purposeful in the Keystone State race for Senate. Pennsylvania has more electoral college votes than any other swing state, and it will be essential to the outcome of the 2024 presidential contest.

In 2020, Biden secured his victory by flipping Pennsylvania. The midterms emboldened Democrats in the state. Republicans have been trailing. And a controversial Republican Senate candidate in 2024 is unlikely to help that trend.

Casey, the Democrat who has held this seat since 2007, has not made any formal announcements on his 2024 plans, but he has strongly indicated he intends to run again. He is currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, but has an “excellent” prognosis, per an announcement earlier this month.

State Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing for the fight, already shoring up their attacks on Republicans' evidently favored contender.

“McCormick is a damaged candidate who spent millions and millions of dollars embracing the most radical fringes of the Republican base and still lost the primary to a quack doctor who has even less connection to Pennsylvania than McCormick himself,” said Jack Doyle, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

“If he does decide to run again, we can expect another nasty GOP primary.”

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