As former President Donald Trump refrains from making a new endorsement in the closely watched Republican primary for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick is turning to other influencers in the party in hopes of generating conservative enthusiasm.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who endorsed McCormick last week, led a rally for the candidate Tuesday at a clay pigeon shooting facility near Allentown that doubled as the first public appearance of McCormick’s campaign.
It was a preview of McCormick’s campaign strategy of recruiting a stellar roster of party stalwarts and Trump White House insiders, including adviser Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Sanders, who is now running for governor of Arkansas.
The Pennsylvania race for the seat vacated by retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey is expected to be among a handful of competitive races this year that will determine control of the Senate, a sentiment Cruz echoed when he flummoxed McCormick and noted the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York
“Pennsylvania could very well decide this entire election,” Cruz said. “The Senate is in the balance. I think if we win Pennsylvania, we’ll beat Chuck Schumer. And if we lose Pennsylvania, I think in all likelihood, Schumer will still be the majority leader.”
In recent weeks, the Republican primary field for the Pennsylvania Senate seat has been reset after Trump-backed candidate Sean Parnell dropped out of the race amid an ugly custody battle with his separated wife.
The national party is officially neutral, and party officials don’t expect Trump to make another endorsement in the race any time soon.
The candidates are working to curry favor with state committee members ahead of an endorsement vote on Feb. 5, and for now, the surrogates will have to fend for themselves.
McCormick is able to garner high-level support through his experience in Washington as a top official in President George W. Bush’s administration and through the influence of his wife, Dina Powell, a former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration. He is also well known in high finance as the former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds.
Before going over McCormick’s long résumé as a Gulf War combat veteran and top government official, Cruz told the crowd, “Let me tell you something about this guy: He’s a tough guy.”
Still, McCormick has several hurdles to overcome.
One, you just entered the race just two weeks ago. Two, he just moved back to Pittsburgh after living in Washington and Connecticut since 2005, drawing roars of derision from his rivals.
Three, he’s relatively unknown to voters, especially considering his main rivals include Jeff Bartos, the GOP-backed candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon, wellness author, and television personality who is well-known. peerless name as the host. from the daytime television show “Dr. Oz Show.”
Whether McCormick’s strategy will help remains to be seen.
“If you have people from out of state coming in to speak on your behalf, that reinforces one of your problems, and that is you just came back here from out of state,” said Jeffrey Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Party and a supporter of Bartos.
Last Friday, Hicks highlighted McCormick’s dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, the night before two regional state party groups met to interview candidates.
In addition to the rally with Cruz, Sanders is expected to be in Pennsylvania in the next few days.
For Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, McCormick ticks the boxes he looks for in a candidate: someone with the money to run a campaign, charisma, shared values and the ability to win a general election.
But Ball doesn’t care about endorsements. He doesn’t think they mean anything to voters or, for that matter, to state committee members who will vote whether to endorse a candidate in the May 17 primary.
“With the endorsements that they have right now,” Ball said, “who’s going to be impressed with these?”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.