early and often

Trump Couldn’t Give Oz a Decisive Win Over McCormick

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getyt Images

In Pennsylvania’s much-watched Republican primary, one big statewide contest was over very early on Election Night, while another remains a cliffhanger. Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, won easily, but his choice for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is likely headed to an automatic recount. As of Wednesday morning, Oz was only a few thousand votes ahead of another Trump-loving candidate, Dave McCormick, after the two of them engaged in an expensive slugfest.

The big winner was state legislator and now gubernatorial nominee Mastriano, who was a staunch ally in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, and used campaign funds to bus people to the January 6 rally (he says he did not enter the Capitol building). Mastriano was already leading in the polls when Trump endorsed him on May 14. His opponent was former congressman Lou Barletta, whom Trump endorsed for a U.S. Senate bid in 2018; the former president has since criticized Barletta for losing that race. Backers of other candidates in the large field made a late effort to consolidate their votes behind Barletta, as they think Mastriano is too extreme to win the general election. Nevertheless, the state legislator sailed to victory; in November he’ll face Democratic state attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was unopposed in his party’s gubernatorial primary.

Before Trump’s endorsement, Mastriano formed an unusual alliance with Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, like him a MAGA extremist who bought into Trump’s stolen-election fables. But Trump himself had already endorsed TV celebrity Oz. A late Barnette surge left her running second behind Oz and well ahead of McCormick in the polls, but it wasn’t enough. She was, after all, massively outspent by both McCormick and Oz; only a late infusion of cash from the Club for Growth got her on the airwaves at all.

In the end, McCormick, who ran as a Trump enthusiast and used his massive resources to denounce Oz as a RINO who had in the past supported legalized abortion and expressed sympathy for transgender people, overperformed his poll standings. It looks like Barnette cut into Oz’s natural strength in eastern Pennsylvania and among Trump loyalists, leaving McCormick to dominate western Pennsylvania and also do well in mail ballots.

Primary night showed an excruciatingly close race in which Oz slowly reduced McCormick’s early lead, creating a virtual tie well within the state’s 0.5 percent margin, triggering an automatic recount. McCormick has predicted he will win with late-counted mail ballots, but that’s not clear at all. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “Any recount could take weeks to resolve.” It remains white-knuckle time at Mar-a-Lago, with the boss already having to deal with signature losses in North Carolina — where his endorsee, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, was toppled — and in Idaho, where another endorsee, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, was trounced by Governor Brad Little. Trump can be assured whomever prevails in the Pennsylvania Senate primary will sing hymns of praise to him. But Lieutenant Governor John Fettterman awaits the eventual winner in what should be a highly competitive general election.

In the end, three Senate candidates who wanted to represent the MAGA wing of the party got a combined 87 percent of the vote, and Trump managed to drag a Turkish American carpetbagger with no real history of conservatism to the brink of victory. But if Oz loses in the end, after a recount or in November, he’ll be a big fat loser in the eyes of his ex-president benefactor.

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Trump Couldn’t Give Oz a Decisive Win Over McCormick