Republicans across the party’s spectrum are pushing for former GOP Senate candidate Dave McCormick to challenge incumbent Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D) in 2024 after the party suffered a devastating blow last year when now-Sen. John Fetterman (Pa.) became the Keystone State’s second Democratic senator.
Many in the GOP argue that McCormick, who was defeated in the primary by Mehmet Oz, would have had a better chance against Fetterman. Republicans are painting McCormick as a consensus builder who can attract moderate and swing voters while keeping the more conservative factions of the party under his wing.
“Whereas there was a lot of division and thought of who should be the Senate and governor candidate in 2022, in 2024 every corner of geography and ideological persuasion in the Republican Party universally believe they’ve got to encourage Dave McCormick to run,” said John Brabender, a veteran GOP consultant with experience in Pennsylvania politics.
While McCormick has not formally jumped into the Senate race, he continues to place himself in the public sphere. The former Senate candidate is coming out with a book, “Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America,” and has made appearances at various recent political events.
“Though our country is headed in the wrong direction, decline isn’t inevitable. What matters is what we do next,” McCormick said in a tweet promoting his book last week.
Strategists say that McCormick’s recent Senate bid along with his public profile are the key ingredients to a ready-made 2024 campaign.
“He’s tested now. Running statewide for the first time is tough,” Brabender said. “Dave starts with a campaign that could start immediately and that is a big advantage.”
McCormick’s supporters also say that he is the makings of a political candidate who anyone would think is an attractive contender in the state, pointing to his military background and western Pennsylvania roots that would provide a contrast to Casey, who hails from the northeastern part of the state.
“David McCormick is a proven conservative who can run exactly the type of competent, well-funded campaign needed to win in Pennsylvania,” said one national Republican strategist. “If he runs, McCormick would immediately put Pennsylvania on the map as a top pick-up opportunity for Republicans.”
Republicans are also eager not to repeat the mistakes of 2022, which saw McCormick losing to Oz by less than a percentage point after former President Trump endorsed Oz in the primary.
“Nobody wants to see what happened in ‘22 happen in ‘24,” said David Urban, former chief of staff to former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (R) and a 2016 Trump campaign adviser. “Nobody wants to see Trump come in and big foot everybody and then you end up with a bunch of seats you could have won and you lose.”
This is why Republicans argue that candidate quality is of chief importance in 2024.
“I think there is a new perspective that says, ‘look, we need candidates that can win,’ ” Brabender said.
Republicans also argue that Oz failed at fighting back against Fetterman’s attacks, which would likely be different from Casey coming at McCormick.
“He was able to define Dr. Oz in the first days of the campaign and Oz was not effective in fighting back against the caricature that he was a carpetbagger, etc.,” said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based GOP strategist.
Republicans also argue that Fetterman was bolstered by early voting that took place prior to the state’s Senate debate, where critics said the Democrat performed poorly as he was recovering from a stroke.
“If those votes had been cast prior to the debate, I think they would have looked very, very different,” Gerow said.
But Casey would be a very different kind of candidate than Fetterman. Casey stands to be a formidable challenger given his incumbency advantage and the state’s slight blue lean.
Casey was first elected in 2006, ousting former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), and has handily won his reelection bids since. The incumbent senator is seen as a political institution in the Keystone State with his father, Bob Casey Sr., serving as the former governor of Pennsylvania.
“It’s like being a Kennedy in Pennsylvania,” Urban said. “He’s going to be a very tough guy to beat.”
Pennsylvania could also prove to be an uphill climb for Republicans after last year’s Democratic victories in the state. The latest 2024 rating for Casey’s Senate seat from the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball released on Tuesday is “lean Democratic.”
A Morning Consult tracking poll released earlier this month showed Casey with a 42 percent approval rating in Pennsylvania.
Still, Republicans see a path for someone, like McCormick, to defeat Casey.
“I look at Bob Casey very much as jello,” Brabender said. “Nobody dislikes jello, but you also don’t want to just have it for every meal and at some point, you realize that it doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value.”
Casey has not formally announced a reelection bid. Earlier this month he revealed he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but said he has an “excellent prognosis.”
In a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer last week, Casey’s spokesperson said he is focused on his health at the moment.
“Right now, Senator Casey is focused on his health and continuing to deliver for Pennsylvanians in Washington,” Mairead Lynn, a spokesperson for the senator, told the outlet. “Most Pennsylvania voters want a break from campaigns and there will be plenty of time for politics in the coming months.”
But the campaign trail has already started picking up steam, given that 2024 will be a presidential election year. This will be a major factor in down-ballot races.
“In a presidential year in a state like Pennsylvania, sometimes that is a big advantage versus a non-presidential year,” Brabender said.
Pennsylvania’s eventual Republican Senate nominee could also be impacted by whom the GOP’s eventual presidential nominee is.
“In a normal year, beating Bob Casey, an incumbent senator, would not be impossible, but it would be tough,” Urban said. “In a year when Donald Trump may be at the top of the ticket, it might be impossible.”