HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republicans trying to recapture the U.S. Senate majority have the candidate they want in Pennsylvania. Now they just need David McCormick to run.
Almost since the moment he lost last year's Senate GOP primary, McCormick has floated the possibility that he would again seek the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate, this time to challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
McCormick has shown up at local party events, raised money for Republican candidates, hired staff, done a publicity tour for his new book and made the rounds of conservative podcasts. In short, everything a candidate might do — except announce his candidacy.
“At this point, if Dave McCormick doesn't run, it'll be the biggest head fake in Pennsylvania political history,” said Vince Galko, a Republican campaign strategist based in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Republicans, perhaps, have done just about everything they can think of to entice McCormick to join a 2024 ticket that might feature a rematch of Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in a premier battleground state that is critical both to control of the White House and the Senate.
If McCormick is circumspect, maybe it's because the former hedge fund CEO spent a small fortune of his own money just to lose narrowly in a crowded and bruising primary election.
For a party that has struggled — both nationally and in Pennsylvania — with nominating polarizing and badly flawed candidates for Senate, some in Pennsylvania worry that another fringe candidate could capture the nomination and embarrass the party anew if McCormick doesn’t run.
McCormick has talked about possibly running for so long now that his stalling has prompted head-scratching in some quarters.
“Talked to him a couple weeks ago, sounded like he was going to run, but I don’t know,” said Rob Gleason, a former state GOP chair and McCormick supporter.
McCormick has not publicly discussed his decision-making process and didn’t respond to an interview request.
The Democratic Party has treated McCormick as the de facto GOP nominee, attacking his record in business, his opposition to abortion rights and indications that he still lives on Connecticut’s “Gold Coast" — in a $16 million mansion, no less — where he spent more than a dozen years while at the hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. McCormick, a Pennsylvania native, insists he lives in Pittsburgh, in a house he bought there in early 2022.
For much of the year, McCormick aides have given a sliding timeline for a decision, including Labor Day at one point, and McCormick's openness about his ruminations has effectively frozen the GOP’s primary field.
Aides now say a decision is close.
Meanwhile, McCormick has drawn pledges of support from two major Senate GOP donor committees — the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — even in a primary.
In recent days, a McCormick ally has circulated a letter of support for McCormick featuring a who's who of party brass, including the state party chair, the party's two national committee representatives and 36 of 67 county party chairs.
If McCormick doesn't run, some party officials worry about the caliber of available alternatives at this relatively late stage.
“That’s going to be a problem,” said Sam DeMarco, the Allegheny County GOP chair who is circulating the letter. “At the moment, we have no idea if Dave chose not to run who would step up. But it’s clear that the Republican Party of Pennsylvania is putting its chips on Dave McCormick.”
It's easy to see why Republicans like McCormick: he's got a glittering resume, deep pockets and connections across the worlds of business and politics. He was backed last year by a super PAC that spent millions from a roster of wealthy donors. And Republicans believe he is moderate enough to appeal to suburbanites and stable enough to help other candidates on the ticket.
Still, it's easy to see why McCormick might be wary about running again: he spent $14 million of his own money on his way to losing out on Trump's endorsement and losing by 950 votes to Trump-endorsed celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The state party is less than a year removed from a nationally embarrassing election, in which Oz lost to Democrat John Fetterman by 5% — a hefty margin in a battleground state like Pennsylvania — and the party's hard-right gubernatorial nominee lost by 15%.
Publicly, Republicans are trying to portray Biden and Casey as vulnerable. The economy is soft and inflation is high, they say.
But they also acknowledge that beating Casey will be difficult. Casey is a stalwart of Pennsylvania's Democratic politics, the son of a former two-term governor and the longest-ever serving Democrat in the Senate from Pennsylvania.
They also know McCormick likely will have to contend with the wild card of having Trump at the top of the GOP ticket.
According to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in August, 35% of U.S. adults have a favorable opinion of Trump and 62% have an unfavorable view of him. When it comes to Biden, 44% have a favorable opinion of him and 52% have an unfavorable opinion.
Trump's approval ratings aside, he lost the 2020 election in Pennsylvania — if only by 1% — and then lustily attacked McCormick during the 2022 primary, at one point calling McCormick the “candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”
McCormick later suggested in his book, published in March, that he lost out on Trump's endorsement to Oz because he refused to say the 2020 election was stolen.
Some party officials say sharing a ticket with Trump is likely a major consideration for McCormick. Still, there is no sign that Trump and McCormick have talked or sorted out any hard feelings, if they exist.
“I asked McCormick about did he worry whether Trump will be the top of the ticket and he said, ‘not really,’" Gleason said.
Meanwhile, McCormick has suggested to allies that he won't run without a party endorsement in the primary, a step to avoid spending another fortune on another crowded intra-party contest.
A Sept. 30 state party meeting is approaching, and GOP circles are alive with chatter that McCormick will seek an endorsement vote there.
The party brass has long liked McCormick, but rank-and-file state committee members have been joined by a number of pro-Trump Republicans in recent years — and how they might view a McCormick endorsement is less clear.
“If he’s the candidate and he gets in the race, I don’t know why folks wouldn’t endorse," DeMarco said. “If there’s no one else, I don’t understand how that works.”
AP polls and surveys reporter Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/timelywriter.