Republican Party officials and strategists have told Pennsylvania businessman David McCormick that if he runs for the Senate again, the party will coalesce around him to avoid the bruising primary battles that elevated flawed candidates in the 2022 midterms.
McCormick, who is releasing a book on Tuesday outlining his vision for America, has been laying the groundwork for a 2024 U.S. Senate run, seeking assurances from state and national party leaders that they will have his back this time. McCormick ran for the Senate last year and lost in a costly, bitter primary by a few hundred votes to television celebrity Mehmet Oz, who went on to lose the general election to Democrat John Fetterman. Pennsylvania was the only state in the midterms where a Senate seat flipped from Republican to Democrat.
McCormick, who grew up near Pittsburgh, hasn’t been subtle about his continued Senate aspirations. In early March, he spoke at the National Republican Senatorial Committee winter meeting. He recently hired two experienced operatives who worked on the reelection campaign of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).
In recent interviews, a dozen Republican insiders in Washington and Pennsylvania said that if McCormick gets in the race, other possible GOP contenders would clear the way for him. Beating Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a three-term incumbent whose family name has been a staple in Pennsylvania politics for more than three decades, will be a challenge, the strategists and party leaders say, but not impossible with the right candidate.
“It’s real simple: It’s either Dave McCormick and nobody else, or it’s not Dave McCormick and it’s everybody else,” said John Brabender, a longtime GOP operative with Pennsylvania ties, referring to the potential GOP field. “Everybody agrees that Dave is the right guy. He checks all the critical boxes.”
Republicans see McCormick, a former hedge fund manager who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and worked in the George W. Bush administration, as an ideal general-election candidate in the mold of Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) — a fiscally conservative businessman who shuns inflammatory rhetoric that they can sell in the crucial swing suburbs of Philadelphia. (In 2012, Republicans believed the same about Romney, who lost the three, populous Philadelphia collar counties to Barack Obama in that year’s presidential election.)
Like many Republicans in the post-Donald Trump era, McCormick, a first-time political candidate, aligned himself with the former president as he tried to win his endorsement in 2022, traveling to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home to court him. McCormick called himself an “America First” candidate and counted high-profile Trump allies such as Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller among his campaign advisers. On his campaign website, McCormick decried the “wokeness taking over our schools, big businesses, and the media.”
He also ran a campaign ad during the 2022 Super Bowl with people chanting “Let’s go Brandon” in the background — a euphemism of a profane phrase used by critics on the right to denigrate President Biden.
But despite McCormick’s efforts to appeal to Trump and the MAGA base, Trump ultimately backed Oz. The former president publicly mocked McCormick at a campaign rally ahead of the primary, calling him a “liberal Wall Street Republican” who was “totally controlled … by Mitch McConnell.”
This time, McCormick is “not going on a suicide mission,” said one Pennsylvania GOP operative familiar with McCormick’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about his plans, adding that McCormick’s decision will be heavily influenced by how much he can consolidate party support.
McCormick, through a spokesperson, declined an interview request.
National Republicans have already signaled that they are ready to lend support. At the March meeting of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), McCormick was given a featured speaking slot. During his remarks, he hinted at his plans, saying, “Politics is like bad whiskey. It tastes bad going down and you can’t get it out of your system,” according to a person in the room, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private event. The next day, NRSC Chairman Steve Daines (R-Mont.) called out McCormick by name during a presentation about the 2024 election, saying he would “make a great Senate candidate,” according to the person who was there.
Josh Holmes, a GOP operative closely connected with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, “From where I sit, it seems pretty clear that at this point, [McCormick’s] clearly the best positioned candidate.”
And Torunn Sinclair, the spokeswoman for the McConnell-aligned super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, said: “We’re focused on Dave McCormick as a candidate who can run and win this race.”
Complicating the party’s desire to anoint McCormick is a possible primary challenge from state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the far-right Republican who won the gubernatorial primary last year and then lost by 15 percentage points in the general election to Democrat Josh Shapiro. Mastriano, who has espoused Christian nationalist views, said in a recent interview with Politico that he was “praying” on whether to run for U.S. Senate.
Many Republicans blamed Mastriano for dragging down the Republican ticket in 2022, costing them not only the governorship, but the races down the ballot. “I’ve not spoken with anyone with a leadership role in Pennsylvania’s Republican Party who thinks Sen. Mastriano should run for the U.S. Senate,” said Sam DeMarco, chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, who is also a big McCormick supporter.
McCormick, who was the chief executive of Bridgewater Associates until 2022, is also attractive to the national party because of his ability to self-fund his campaign — he spent more than $14 million of his own money in 2022 — freeing up the NRSC and others to spend money on other tough races, according to a GOP operative working on Senate races, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about internal strategy. Rallying behind McCormick early also helps “reassure big donors that [Republicans] are trying to get electable candidates,” the person said.
Party leaders in Pennsylvania also say they are ready to get behind McCormick. Liz Preate Havey, who as chairwoman in 2022 of the Montgomery County Republicans did not endorse in the GOP Senate primary, said she would this time.
“I think [McCormick] really wants to do it, but he also recognizes a messy primary like the last one is not the right thing for Republicans,” she said. “Voters across the state have expressed a desire to not make the mistakes we did in the last election. People want to see the party endorse, they don’t want to see a bloody primary, they don’t want to see Trump getting involved, and they see one person who is showing tremendous strength and that’s Dave McCormick.”
On Wednesday, McCormick will kick off a statewide book tour in Pittsburgh. His new book, “Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America,” lays out a conservative policy agenda for the country — a platform that could easily translate to a campaign stump speech. Similarly, former Pennsylvania Republican senator Patrick J. Toomey published a book to “revive the American Dream” within months of his announcing his candidacy for the Senate in 2009.
“What it offers is a set of policies that are anchored to core conservative principles but also recognize how Washington has failed to preserve liberty and opportunity for all Americans and to protect American values,” McCormick writes in the book, according to an excerpt provided to The Washington Post. “These policies are also fit for the unique moment in history in which we find ourselves and give us a path to victory in three vital contests of our time: the races for talent, technology, and data supremacy.”
Democrats are already readying their attacks on McCormick, preparing to resurface the criticisms he faced during the 2022 GOP primary accusing him of working for companies that invested in China and outsourced American jobs.
“For months, Pennsylvania Republicans savaged McCormick over his record of outsourcing jobs and for his close ties to China, Wall Street and Mitch McConnell,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “With Mastriano making noises about entering the race, Republicans’ Senate primary dynamics are getting messier by the day.”
At least one McCormick supporter isn’t convinced he’s going to run. David Urban, a GOP operative and Trump campaign adviser who calls McCormick a friend, said he wouldn’t be surprised if McCormick weighed his options and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth going through another hard-fought campaign.
But, if he does get in, Urban said McCormick would be formidable in a general election.
“If there’s somebody who can beat Bob Casey, it’s McCormick … and that’s why everyone is pushing him so hard,” Urban said. “He’s truly on the fence, his heart really wants to run, he’s a patriotic guy. They’d be lucky to have him.”