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Pa. Republican U.S. Senate primary too close to call. David McCormick leads Mehmet Oz by a narrow margin

  • By Oliver Morrison/ WESA
In this 2022 photo combination shown are Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates, Dave McCormick, left and Mehmet Oz. A super PAC aligned with a McCormick, aired a TV ad suggesting that Oz is not conservative enough and included a clip from a 2010

In this 2022 photo combination shown are Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates, Dave McCormick, left and Mehmet Oz. A super PAC aligned with a McCormick, aired a TV ad suggesting that Oz is not conservative enough and included a clip from a 2010 "Dr. Oz Show" episode during which Oz interviews a transgender child and a transgender teen.

In one of the biggest surprises of the Pennsylvania primary election, television host Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick led the crowded field of Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in a neck-and-neck contest early Wednesday.

McCormick led by less than 5,000 votes at midnight, but Oz pulled ahead by 80 votes early in the morning. With 95 percent of the votes counted early Wednesday, Oz led by less than 2,700 votes.

If the final totals result in a difference between the two candidates of 0.5 percent or less of the vote, an automatic recount will be triggered.

“We’re going to win this campaign,” McCormick told his supporters just before midnight. “Right now, we have tens of thousands of mail-in ballots that have not been counted that are going to need to be counted beginning tomorrow.”

McCormick leads the field in mail-in voting, which many Republicans disparage.

McCormick’s strong showing, even if it doesn’t hold up, was surprising. In polling conducted just before the primary, McCormick was in third place behind Oz and Kathy Barnette of Montgomery County, a pro-Trump conservative commentator on far-right channels such as Newsmax and One America News.

Trailing behind them were Berks County businessman Jeff Bartos, Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto, Montgomery County attorney Sean Gale and former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands.

The race pitted McCormick’s money — as former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund — versus Oz’s TV fame. McCormick spent more than $11 million of his own money, and an outside PAC spent more than $17 million on the race.

Although Oz spent millions as well, his spending didn’t keep up with that of McCormick. The attacks on Oz focused on his ties to Hollywood, his previous liberal views, his tenuous ties to the Commonwealth and his dual citizenship with Turkey.

But it was Barnette, not McCormick, who appeared to be surging in the lead-up to the election, as her account of being the child of a rape gave her momentum at a time when the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court ruling put the issue of abortion and the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade front and center.

Barnette argued that she was the Trumpiest of the candidates, as she had championed conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and falsehoods about election fraud. Photos of her at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 appeared in the days before the election.

Former President Donald Trump made a late appeal against Barnett, however, saying she was untested and unvetted. By that time, Oz had already won Trump’s coveted endorsement — and the race was seen as a test of the power of the president’s backing.

Oz acknowledged that he hadn’t clinched the nomination when he spoke to a small gathering of family and supporters late Tuesday at an election-night watch party at an athletic club in Newtown.

“We’re not going to have a result tonight,” he said. “When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win.”

For her part, Barnette declined to concede Tuesday night when she addressed and thanked her supporters in Lancaster County. She said they made it possible for “a little Black girl who grew up below the bottom rung on the economic ladder [to] be able to stand here and say this is the greatest country that ever existed.”

Earlier in the day, McCormick hinted that the race would come down to a large number of undecided votes.

“I think people have this sense that their country’s going in the wrong direction. And so they’re angry and frustrated. They’re watching,” he said soon after casting his own vote in Pittsburgh.

McCormick was the only candidate in the race to hold his watch party in Pittsburgh, where he headed a tech company two decades ago. Sean Parnell, who won Trump’s endorsement in the race before he dropped out in the midst of a contentious child-custody case, attended the party in East Liberty to show his support for McCormick.

Cheers for McCormick became increasingly loud as the night wore on and an early advantage continued throughout the night, even as Oz whittled it down to less than 1% three hours after the polls had closed.

But for one night at least, McCormick’s lead held.

The seat is currently held by retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey — and will be a key target for Democrats to try to flip in the fall.

Sophia Schmidt of WHYY and Brett Sholtis of WITF contributed.

 

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