Trump blowback could carry less bite in 2024 for some in GOP

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FILE – David McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, speaks during a campaign stop in Lititz, Pa., on May 13, 2022. Donald Trump’s attacks on McCormick contributed to his defeat in a Republican primary earlier this year for a critical U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. As he eyes another run, the former president’s derision may not be such a liability. McCormick is considering a challenge to three-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. | Donald Trump’s attacks on fellow Republican David McCormick contributed to the former hedge fund manager’s loss in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary. Now, as McCormick considers running again for the Senate, Trump’s derision may not be such a liability.

While McCormick, 57, has not said whether he will challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024, he is taking steps signaling a campaign may be in the works, including attending recent receptions with influential GOP strategists and donors. McCormick also plans to publish a book in March — “Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America” — that could raise his profile.

He would be running in what could be a much different political environment.

Trump dominated the GOP primaries this year, wielding the power of his endorsement to lift his preferred candidates to the party nomination. But many of those contenders, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, lost in the general election. The latest was Herschel Walker, whose defeat on Tuesday in Georgia gave Democrats 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Trump is now facing blame from some Republicans for contributing to the party’s midterm shortcomings, and that could open room for McCormick and others without worrying about blowback from the former president.

McCormick “hasn’t come to any definitive conclusion even though we’ve tried to encourage him to run,” said Christine Toretti, the GOP’s national committeewoman from Pennsylvania. “I think he’s a fabulous candidate and I would love to see him run.”

McCormick did not respond to a request for an interview.

Flipping a Senate seat in one of the most competitive states won’t be easy.

Casey, 62, has not said whether he will seek reelection. He has never won a race for Senate by fewer than 9 percentage points and, as the son of a former two-term governor and someone who has run statewide seven times, is an institution in Pennsylvania politics.

The 2024 race in the closely contested state also could be influenced by the parties’ choice of presidential nominees that year.

Some Republicans expect that the Senate field will be frozen until McCormick makes up his mind. He was the establishment favorite in the party’s seven-way primary in May that he lost by fewer than 1,000 votes to Oz.

McCormick is a West Point graduate who was awarded a Bronze Star for service in the Gulf War, got a doctorate from Princeton University, became a tech entrepreneur and served at the highest levels in President George W. Bush’s administration before running the world’s largest hedge fund.

And he’s worth nine figures.

“With his resources, the party would be foolish to actively recruit someone to go against him,” said Vince Galko, a Republican campaign strategist based in northeastern Pennsylvania. “He checks most boxes Republicans care about.”

Over the weekend, McCormick was seemingly everywhere at the Pennsylvania Society, an annual cluster of dinners, receptions, fundraisers and get-togethers for Pennsylvania’s social and political elite in New York City. McCormick attended a reception hosted by Toretti and several events held by prominent donors and organizations.

One other name coming up in Republican circles as a potential Senate candidate is the elected state treasurer, Stacy Garrity, who campaigned hard for fellow Republicans on the ticket in 2022. Garrity didn’t return a request for comment.

Perhaps an equally big problem as Casey for McCormick — or any other Republican candidate — is the GOP’s embarrassing performance in this past election.

Finger-pointing is following GOP defeats in the races for senator, governor and three toss-up congressional districts, and its loss of the state House majority. Oz lost by 5 percentage points to Democrat John Fetterman, while the party’s nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, lost by 15 points to Democrat Josh Shapiro.

Party leaders now are warning that the GOP must end an aversion among its voters to voting by mail, fueled by Trump’s baseless claims that such voting is rife with fraud.

They also say the party must be firm about endorsing in primaries to weed out weak general election candidates and avoid bruising primaries — a prospect sure to benefit McCormick.

And after GOP candidates once again lost vast swaths of Pennsylvania’s heavily populated suburbs, there is talk anew that the party must do a better job countering Democrats’ ideas and communicating their own to moderate voters.

That must be fixed before 2024 if a GOP candidate is to be successful, said Sam DeMarco, a McCormick supporter and GOP chairman in heavily populated Allegheny County.

Still, it’s not clear that McCormick can capture the GOP’s primary electorate.

In this year’s primary campaign, McCormick tapped deep connections across the world of finance, politics and government to get support for his campaign and was the choice of many in the establishment. He was wealthy enough to pay for his own TV ads, spending $14 million of his own money, and was backed by a super political action committee spending millions more.

To try to endear himself to working-class primary voters, his campaign put up ads of McCormick shooting guns, riding a motorcycle and reminiscing in a bar about scoring touchdowns as a high school athlete.

But McCormick was attacked by primary rivals that he was a carpetbagging political opportunist trying to buy the seat after living the previous 12 years in Connecticut. He also drew criticism for being weak on China after running a hedge fund notable for its sizable portfolio that catered to Chinese investors investing in China.

In the end, McCormick was not the choice of many of the party’s farthest-right voters.

And he was not the choice of Trump, who endorsed Oz and attacked McCormick as the “candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”

If Trump is on the ballot in 2024, McCormick will have to share the campaign trail with a fellow Republican who tried to defeat him and who continues to peddle baseless claims about how the 2020 election was stolen from him — claims that party leaders want to put behind them.

For a party that just went through a difficult election year in Pennsylvania, it’s certainly not too early to start talking about 2024, said Keith Rothfus, a former congressman who spoke with McCormick recently. He said candidates, even ones as wealthy as McCormick, should start talking to donors now and building a network of people who will give to their campaign and support them.

It’s also important for Republicans to start early in Pennsylvania, where Democrats have been winning most statewide races and hold a slight voter registration advantage.

“Pennsylvania is not a purple-red state, it’s purple at best for Republicans,” Rothfus said. “A Republican can win, but you pretty much have to run a flawless campaign and you pretty much have to do everything right.”

Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/timelywriter

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