Saturday, April 1, 2023

Oz, McCormick neck-and-neck in as vote tally continues in Pa. Senate primary


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President Trump began sowing doubt in the results of the neck-and-neck Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary between his endorsed candidate, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, and hedge fund manager, David McCormick, urging Oz to “declare victory” before all the votes are counted.

Pennsylvania, a state Trump won in 2016, but lost in 2020, was at the center of his baseless claims that voter fraud cost him the election and suggested Wednesday something nefarious could happen in Oz’s race.

The former president declared on his social media site, Truth Social, that Oz had won, even though the race has not been called. He derided the mail-in ballots, posting: “Here we go again! In Pennsylvania they are unable to count the Mail-in Ballots. It is a BIG MESS. Our Country should go to paper ballots, with same day voting. Just done in France, zero problems. Get Smart America!”

Senior news anchor Libby Casey breaks down the top takeaways from Tuesday’s Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries. (Video: Libby Casey, Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

He later urged Oz to “declare victory.” “It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find,’” Trump said with no evidence.

As of Wednesday morning, Oz, who earned Trump’s endorsement in April, held a razor-thin lead over McCormick, who sought Trump’s support and was backed by many Trump allies. With 95 percent of votes counted, Oz had 31.3 percent to McCormick’s 31.1 percent.

Pennsylvania law mandates an automatic recount if a candidate’s margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. Thousands of mail-in ballots remain to be counted.

The winner will take on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination. Fetterman is recovering from a recent stroke that kept him off the campaign trail in the primary’s final days. He hopes to get back out on the trail in a few days, his wife, Gisele Fetterman, said on CNN on Wednesday morning.

The race is seen as a crucial front in the battle for the Senate majority. The Pennsylvania seat is held by retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey.

President Biden’s low approval rating has stoked worries among Democrats about the November midterms, especially in key battleground races. Republicans have been seeking to rally support from voters over concerns about rising inflation, crime and other issues, creating major political head winds for the party in power in Washington.

The contentious race between Oz and McCormick left an opening for a third candidate, Kathy Barnette, to grain traction in the final weeks of the campaign among voters who were underwhelmed by their top-tier choices. Barnette, who competed for Trump supporters with a far-right platform that embraced many of the former president’s ideas, including his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, was on pace to finish a distant third.

Trump and Oz viciously attacked McCormick, describing the former hedge fund CEO and Army veteran as a “liberal Wall Street Republican” who wasn’t truly “MAGA,” the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan in 2016. McCormick brought in Mike Pompeo, who was Trump’s secretary of state, to question Oz’s dual citizenship with Turkey.

Addressing supporters late Tuesday, Oz thanked Trump and Fox News’s Sean Hannity for helping with his campaign.

“President Trump after he endorsed me continued to lean into this race in Pennsylvania … God bless you, sir, for putting so much effort into this race, I will make you proud,” Oz said. “I want to thank Sean Hannity … he understands exactly how to make a difference, and he’s been doing that the entire campaign, much of it behind the scenes.”

The Senate Democratic primary, in which Fetterman defeated Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, was far less personal. High-level Democrats did not endorse any candidate in the race but were swift to offer their support for Fetterman when it became clear shortly after polls closed that he was the decisive winner with 60 percent of the vote.

“Democrats are united around John, who is a strong nominee, will run a tough race and can win in November,” Biden said in a statement 90 minutes after the polls closed. “And while we await the results of the GOP primary, one thing is clear — these candidates are not your father’s GOP. They have fought a malicious, chaotic primary to be the most extreme … whoever emerges will be too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate.”

Fetterman is nearly 6-foot-9, with a shaved head, goatee and tattoos up both arms. His oversize hoodies, gym shorts, sneakers and plain-spoken style have generated a deep fan base among voters disillusioned by recent politics.

In every state except Pennsylvania that has held midterm primaries this year, turnout dropped between 41 and 70 percentage points compared with 2020 — which is expected because 2020 was a presidential primary. In Pennsylvania, the turnout drop was only 17 percentage points, evidence of high enthusiasm among Democratic voters.

Part of the delay in the Republican race results was due to a printing error that made thousands of ballots unreadable in Lancaster County, the sixth-most populous in the state. Those ballots needed to be redone by hand and then scanned.

There are “quite a few ballots” that remain to be counted in the Republican primary, acting secretary of state Leigh Chapman said during an appearance on CNN. Though Chapman said she could not provide a number, figures from the Associated Press suggest that at least 24,000 absentee and mail-in ballots have yet to be counted. Oz is ahead by less than 2,500 votes.

Lenny Bronner and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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